Home South African Judge Hlophe defends meetings with ConCourt judges about Zuma’s arms deal case

Judge Hlophe defends meetings with ConCourt judges about Zuma’s arms deal case

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Hlophe has been hauled before the Judicial Conduct Tribunal where he is accused of having tried to improperly influence Justices Chris Jafta and Bess Nkabinde to help decide in favour of Zuma in the arms deal saga.

Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe. File picture

WESTERN Cape Judge President John Hlophe was on Tuesday at pains to explain why he had initiated discussions with two Constitutional Court justices on former president Jacob Zuma’s arms deal case while they were among the team considering it 12 years ago.

Hlophe has been hauled before the Judicial Conduct Tribunal where he is accused of having tried to improperly influence Justices Chris Jafta and Bess Nkabinde to help decide in favour of Zuma in the arms deal saga.

Earlier on Tuesday, both Jafta and Nkabinde took the stand and testified about their meetings with Hlophe.

Jafta recounted how Hlophe called him in March 2008 and set up a meeting in which the two discussed wide-ranging issues, including the issue of professional privilege in relation to the seizure of documents by law enforcement agencies from lawyers in the Zuma saga.

Hlophe is represented by renowned British criminal defence advocate Courtenay Griffiths, who asked Jafta to explain his impression of what Hlophe meant when he said “sesithembele kinina” when discussing the Supreme Court of Appeal ruling on the Zuma matter.

“My understanding of it was in the context that, here is a judgment of the Supreme Court of Appeal, which I recollect in his words had gotten the law incorrectly. So in that context I understood him to mean that the Constitutional Court as the highest court will have to put right that which was wrong in the judgment of the SCA,” Jafta said.

Jafta told the tribunal that he had not thought of laying a complaint against Hlophe over the saga, even despite him and Nkabinde being told by then chief justice Pius Langa and then deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke to lodge a complaint in May 2008.

Jafta said among his reasons for not wanting to complain against Hlophe was their friendship and that he felt it was undesirable for a judge to testify.

“What complicated the matter here was that the judge president (Hlophe) is my friend and I thought it would not be desirable for me to do that,” Jafta said.

Nkabinde took the stand and told the tribunal she had moved to rebuff Hlophe after he attempted to influence her on the case, adding that he had indicated that he had strong views on the Zuma case as it related to privilege.

“I was of the view that he was attempting to influence my thinking. When he came to me when we met, he had mentioned the issue of privilege.

“I did not make much of it at that time, but I became aware that he had discussed this matter with Justice Jafta and when he started discussing this matter, regard being had to the fact that I had been one of the scribes who was allocated to write about this very issue of professional privilege, I snapped and told him ‘you cannot do this’,” Nkabinde said.

Hlophe faced a grilling from advocate Gilbert Marcus, for the Constitutional Court, on why he thought it was appropriate to hold discussions with the apex court judges on Zuma’s cases.

Hlophe said he had talked with the judges “on the issue of general principle” and not “the facts and how the decision must be made by the court”.

“The issue of privilege, the communication between attorney and client has been an issue for decades,” Hlophe said.

Marcus also quizzed Hlophe on what he had meant when he remarked during his meeting with Jafta that Zuma was being persecuted, like him.

He said he had likened himself to Zuma in response to Jafta asking if his problems had ended in the Western Cape.

“I said I am just like Zuma because his problems will never go away,” Hlophe said.

The legal representatives are expected to make their final arguments before the tribunal on Friday.

Political Bureau