Justice Bess Nkabinde. Picture: BRETT ELOFF/BUSINESS DAY
Justice Bess Nkabinde. Picture: BRETT ELOFF/BUSINESS DAY

Constitutional Court justice Bess Nkabinde is retiring at the end of the year, the court announced on Wednesday.

Nkabinde served as a judge in SA’s highest court for 12 years. She was appointed in 2006 and when deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke retired in 2016, Nkabinde was appointed acting deputy chief justice.

Nkabinde was the first woman to hold this position, the Constitutional Court said.

She and Justice Chris Jafta alleged in 2008 that Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe had tried to influence their ruling in a corruption case involving President Jacob Zuma and Thint, a French arms company involved in the arms deal.

A complaint was lodged but in the same year the two said they would not proceed with the matter. After that Nkabinde and Jafta were part of a co-complaint lodged by all Constitutional Court judges.

In 2013, a Judicial Service Commission tribunal into Hlophe’s conduct was established, but the two justices questioned its lawfulness.

The two turned to the courts but lost in the High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal. Still aggrieved, they turned to their own court and applied to appeal.

However, their colleagues at the Constitutional Court turned them away, saying that too many of its justices had a conflict of interest, and that a quorate court could not be established. The Constitution requires that a case must be decided by at least eight justices.

The two then applied for the order to be reversed or rescinded. But in a judgment of "the court", nine of its justices said Jafta and Nkabinde’s rescission application had no merit.

According to the Constitutional Court, Nkabinde was admitted as an advocate in 1988 and after a pupillage in 1989 joined the North West Bar in 1990, where she practised as an advocate until 1999.

In 1999 she served as an acting judge of the High Court, Bophuthatswana Provincial Division, and was subsequently appointed as a judge of that division of the High Court.

She went on to be an acting judge in the Labour Court in 2000 and 2003, the Labour Appeal Court from October 2004 to February 2005, and the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2005.

The Constitutional Court said a formal court session would be held in Nkabinde’s honour on Thursday.

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