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Western Cape judge president John Hlophe. File picture: MOHAU MOFOKENG.
Western Cape judge president John Hlophe. File picture: MOHAU MOFOKENG.

Western Cape judge president John Hlophe has been granted leave to appeal a ruling of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that cleared the way for his potential impeachment.

While finding that Hlophe's leave to appeal application lacked merit, a full bench of the Gauteng high court in Johannesburg, however, granted it, saying it "raised matters of significant public importance", largely because Hlophe may become the first judge in South African history to be impeached. 

Hlophe was found guilty by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) in August 2021. That followed a judicial conduct tribunal that found he had improperly sought to influence two of the highest court’s justices to violate their oaths of office in relation to a 2008 complaint that he had sought to influence the outcome of cases, then pending before the apex court, related to corruption charges against former president Jacob Zuma.

Hlophe challenged the JSC’s decision in the high court in Johannesburg but his case was dismissed by a full bench in May. However, the judges who dismissed his case, acting judge president Aubrey Ledwaba, deputy judge president Roland Sutherland and judge Margie Victor, have granted Hlophe leave to appeal to the SCA.

In a short judgment from the court, the three judges said while they thought Hlophe'’ appeal application lacked merit, it was “plain that the case has raised matters of significant public importance”.

The controversy involving the judge president raised issues of “critical significance to the administration of justice”, said the court.

“These include the integrity of the judiciary as a whole and the norms by which it falls to be held accountable and the proper functioning of the Judicial Service Commission,” said the court.

The judgment also dealt with “unprecedented” issues, including the disciplining of a judge of the high court “for impugning a courts integrity”.

Though the judges felt that, in his application, Hlophe had done no more than “recycle the arguments already addressed in the judgment”, courts could also grant leave to appeal if “there is some other compelling reason the appeal should be heard”.

“In our view the case raises discrete issues of ‘public importance that will have an effect on future matters’,” said the court, quoting an earlier judgment of the SCA. 

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