Hlophe, Motata have a lot to lose
As the National Assembly prepares to determine the future of disgraced Judges John Hlophe and Nkola Motata after they were found guilty of gross misconduct, what the duo will lose – including the substantial privileges and public standing associated with their judicial positions – is spelled out in a City Press report.
As previously reported, MPs on Parliament’s Justice Committee, excluding the EFF, this week voted to recommend the removal of Hlophe, the suspended Western Cape Judge President, and Motata, a retired Gauteng judge.
Legal expert Richard Chemaly has highlighted the often-overlooked privileges associated with the title of a judge, emphasising the potential damage to professional standing that can occur when a judge, regardless of retirement status, loses this title.
Chemaly reportedly told City Press: ‘They obviously cease to be judges and don't get the benefits associated with it but less obvious is that they tend to be ousted and outcast from the legal world they've spent their entire career in. It's unlikely that they'll find lucrative work any longer and their reputation, which is every lawyer's pride and joy, is tainted.’
Despite his retirement status, Chemaly said that Motata's removal from the Bench would still have a detrimental impact, particularly on his ‘generous retirement benefits’.
He said: ‘There's a phrase of pride in legal circles, “once a judge, always a judge”, and there are benefits that flow from it. From generous retirement packages to car allowances and even priority airport boarding in many cases. The removal may impact these benefits but also, from a professional level, inhibit his use of the judge title. While that may not seem like a big deal to a layperson, in the legal world, it's a major slap.’
Hlophe's legal team has already signalled their intention to contest his removal, citing alleged political interference in JSC impeachment proceedings.
Hlophe wanted a separate parliamentary inquiry into the misconduct allegations, but his request was denied. While Hlophe could resort to legal action to challenge Parliament's decision, Chemaly expressed scepticism about the likelihood of success.
He explained to City Press: ‘At best, their legal recourse would be a judicial review of the parliamentary committee, which, if successful, would limit Parliament's basis for removing them. However, it's unlikely that a judicial review will be entertained in this matter, let alone succeed.’
Chemaly lauded the historic significance of the parliamentary process. He emphasised that this unprecedented development underscored the resilience and effectiveness of SA’s legal system and institutions in ensuring accountability for judicial misconduct.
He said: ‘It's an indication of the complexity of our legal system and separation of powers at work. It's thrilling to watch because we've had these instruments in our legal books for nearly three decades and now they're being put to use and potentially tested. It goes to show that our legal framework is robust and quite thorough. It also shows that despite all the troubles in the country, the checks and balances in the Constitution are still applied and, in this case, functional.’
Chemaly also highlighted the importance of the processes followed in dealing with the misconduct allegations against Hlophe and Motata, saying this demonstrated to the public that judges were not above the law, particularly in light of ongoing concerns regarding the independence of the judiciary.
He told City Press: ‘Now, more than ever, our judicial system is under threat because it's called upon to make politically unpopular decisions, and you'll hear politicians being critical of judgments. Sometimes with justification and other times for political gain. The Bench cannot afford to have judges who misconduct themselves. The legal system can only work when the people trust it and while there will always be external forces testing that trust, the judiciary can't be allowed to score its own goals.’
Article disclaimer: While we have made every effort to ensure the accuracy of this article, it is not intended to provide final legal advice as facts and situations will differ from case to case, and therefore specific legal advice should be sought with a lawyer.