Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe has approached the Johannesburg High Court in a bid to force Parliament to halt the impeachment process against him.
It has been reported by TimesLive that Hlophe seeks to have the impeachment process, which is currently being reviewed by the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional services, stayed through an interdict.
According to the publication, Hlophe also wants to stop President Cyril Ramaphosa from suspending him.
This comes after the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) found that Hlophe improperly tried to influence two Constitutional Court (ConCourt) justices to violate their oaths of office by ruling in favour of former president Jacob Zuma.
The matter related to the validity of searches during the arms deal investigation of Zuma and French arms company Thales’ local subsidiary, Thint, in 2008.
In a majority judgment, the JSC concluded that Hlophe was guilty of gross misconduct based on the Judicial Conduct Tribunal’s findings.
However, Hlophe also wants to have the high court set aside the tribunal’s findings, and to rule that the JSC meeting – in which the majority voted that he should be impeached – be declared unlawful as the commission “failed to perform its constitutional obligations”.
Hlophe, in his papers, has argued that the JSC meeting was conducted without the presence of the chief justice and a deputy chief justice.
Meanwhile, the JSC is set to meet on Monday to decide whether to recommend Hlophe’s suspension to the president, according to News24.
Last week, Parliament was informed that it is unable to conduct another investigation into Hlophe’s charges as it is only limited to a check-and-balance function.
Parliament’s legal advisers Barbara Loots and Siviwe Njikela gave a legal opinion on Hlophe’s impeachment process to the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services.
The committee has been tasked with processing the JSC’s report into Hlophe so they can consider the procedural aspects of the impeachment and report back to the National Assembly once completed.
Hlophe’s impeachment process has to be in line with section 177 of the Constitution, which governs the removal of a judge.
In the National Assembly, two-thirds of MPs must vote in favour of Hlophe’s impeachment, which would result in the judge being formally removed from office by Ramaphosa.
If the House does not vote in favour of impeachment, the judge could be sanctioned through punitive measures that include an order for an apology, a reprimand, counselling or training.
Should Hlophe be impeached, he will be the first judge since the advent of democracy to be removed from office.