Judicial racism spat ‘festers’

News24 – SAPA

Cape Town – Individuals finered for racism in the judiciary were feeling aggrieved about not being allowed to defend themselves, Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla was told on Tuesday. Parliament’s justice portfolio committe chair Fatima Chohan-Khota told the minister: “I can’t tell you how inundated I am – sometimes I think I am being harassed by people who had been finered during the racism allegations, but never got a chance to defend themselves.” The matter was continuing to fester, said Chohan-Khota. “To allow this to happen and to allow people to feel this way cannot be right.” Mabandla, who was briefing the committee on the department’s 2006 priorities, said there had been an “almost vulgar attempt” at the start of the squabble to “bring me into the thing”. Judges and lawyers were the best ones to deal with the matter as they would have first-hand knowledge of whether prejudice existed or not. “They are the ones who should deal with it, and I hope they still are,” said Mabandla. As for people accused “inappropriately”, the committee should pursue the matter as it saw fit, the minister added. The race row, late last year, was sparked by claims that Cape Judge-President John Hlophe had called attorney Joshua Greeff a “piece of white shit” after Greeff criticised the way one of Hlophe’s appointees, acting Justice Tandazwa Ndita, presided over a murder case in which he was involved. Hlophe had complained earlier of racism in the judiciary, leading to speculation he had been made the target of a smear campaign for speaking out. A ceasefire was declared when Chief Justice Pius Langa announced that none of the protagonists wanted any further action to be taken.

Hlophe: keep criticism private

News24 – SAPA

Port Elizabeth – Cape Judge President John Hlophe on Saturday laid down the law to attorneys on courtroom etiquette, including advice on how to dress, and warned them not to criticise judges’ decisions in public. It was important for attorneys and advocates to respect a court and its decisions, and not to speak out against judgements they disliked. “That is something that borders on contempt of court,” he told members of the Cape Law Society in a workshop at the body’s AGM in Port Elizabeth. Hlophe hit the headlines recently over an allegation which he has denied that he called Cape Town attorney Josua Greeff a “piece of white shit” in his chambers. The confrontation followed a complaint by Hlophe by acting Judge Thandazwa Ndita over Greeff’s comments to the media on a murder judgement she had delivered against a client of Greeff. Greeff did not attend the AGM. Hlophe also told the workshop it was “very discourteous” when a ruling was handed down for lawyers to “immediately jump up in court” and announce their intention to appeal. “You don’t do that. Please don’t do that,” he said. Instead they should first read and analyse the judgement and take proper instructions from their clients. On the issue of dress in court he said that in general the legal profession tried to discourage bright colours such as reds and greens. “Try as fas as possible to wear dark clothes in court,” he said. He said he would be accused of being sexist if he spoke out against mini-skirts being worn by female lawyers.

The courtroom

He told the attorneys that if they had to approach a judge in the courtroom, they should be careful to return to their seats the way they had come. “You don’t walk right across the bench. It’s never done, and some judges will take great and strong exceptions,” he said. He said he did not know the reason for the taboo. Hlophe also said the justice department was introducing the computerisation of court papers, which would be implemented in the Western Cape from November 1. All documents filed would be scanned and available electronically, and ultimately judges would have computers in front of them in the courtroom. This would make a huge diffirence to civil matters in particular. “It’s going to produce brilliant results at the end of the day and we are all going to benefit.” He said he would like to see more attorneys appearing in the high court. With their broad knowledge of the law they sometimes has an advantage over advocates who specialised in a particular field. Northern Cape Judge President Frans Kgomo told the workshop he was sometimes phoned by advocates saying they were concerned at the inexperience of an acting judge assigned to a case. “I would say to them well I am not going to change the case. You will appear before the judge,” he said. He asked the attorneys to imagine him telling a judge he was being removed from a case and either giving a false explanation or saying it was because cousel did not have confidence in him. “Sometimes people are not sensitive enough,” Kgomo said.

New twist in Hlophe saga

News24 – SAPA

Cape Town – In the latest twist in the allegations of racism against Cape judge president John Hlophe, the Cape Bar filed a complaint against the judge on Wednesday. In a sworn statement, Advocate Dirk Uijs, SC, repeated the allegation the Hlophe called a junior lawyer, Josua Greeff, “a piece of white shit” who “does not deserve the walk the corridors of the higher court”, and said that Greeff should return to Holland. The complaint was referred to Chief Justice Pius Langa. Meanwhile, allegations have also been made that Hlophe made derogatory comments to advocate Norman Arendse about Judge Wilfred Thring.

Ability

However, Hlophe denied these allegations on Wednesday and said it was Arendse who questioned Thring’s ability and referred to him as “conservative”. Reacting to this denial, Arendse, who is the chairperson of the General Bar, said Langa should create a forum where they could each have their say. “If the judge is proved wrong, he should pay the price,” he said. Hlophe has maintained that the allegations against him are part of a “smear campaign”. The storm around Hlophe erupted earlier this month when Noseweek reported on these allegations. It also came to light that Hlophe insulted the Law Society of the Cape of Good Hope by implying that a complaint against Greeff would be futile because “the white gentlemen there would look after his interests”. In a statement, the chairperson of the Cape Bar, advocate Ashton Schippers, said Greeff was also prepared to make a sworn statement about the incident.

Undermine

Schippers said: “If the allegations are true, they are very concerning since they undermine the Judge President’s public statement about racism and are therefore to the detriment of his position”. The alleged incident comes from a charge that Judge Tandaswa Ndita filed against Greeff, after the latter told the radio station RSG that her ruling in the murder case of Sasha-Leigh Crook was also based on circumstantial evidence and that he would file for an appeal. Ndita did not consider this application and adjourned the court. Shortly after this, Hlophe called Uijs to his chambers. Ndita, Greeff and the state advocate, Christenus van der Vijver, were also present. Naleni Gangen, chairperson of the Law Society of the Cape of Good Hope, said the investigation into Greeff, based on Ndita’s charge, has not started yet. They are still waiting for a transcript of the radio interview. She said Greeff did not approach the Law Society with his complaint against Hlophe, but Hlophe’s alleged comments would be discussed on October 27 at the Law Society’s monthly council meeting.

Appeal

In another incident, Hlophe allegedly told Arendse that he would give the Mikro Primary School case to Thring because Thring would “fuck up” the case, after which it could be “set right” at appeal level. He allegedly made this comment at a cricket match on February 6, a day before the case started.