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South Africa high court justices accused of political bias

[JURIST] The top judge in South Africa's Cape High Court accused judges of the Constitutional Court of South Africa [official website] Friday of political bias after they filed a complaint [JURIST report] with the country's judicial disciplinary body earlier this month against him. The Constitutional Court judges said in a unusual public statement [text, DOC] that they were filing the complaint against Judge John Hlophe to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) [backgrounder, DOC] because he had violated the constitution [text, Schedule 2, Item 6] by attempting to influence the judges in a pending corruption case against African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Hlophe's lawyers said that they issued the statement before actually submitting a proper complaint to the JSC and thereby jeopardized the Constitutional Court's case against Zuma. "The conduct was deeply vindictive and grossly inconsistent with any procedural fairness requirements that it cannot but be concluded that the motives in issuing the statement were motivated by undesirable political consideration," the complaint charges. Hlophe has temporarily stepped down, but the Constitutional Court judges have already missed a JSC deadline [Star report] to submit evidence and testimony and the JSC has subpoenaed two of the judges [SAPA report] to testify against him. The Star has more.

Hlophe's alleged unconstitutional behavior is in connection with a March hearing to determine whether raids on Zuma's home violated his rights to privacy and a fair trial [JURIST report]. Zuma has been facing corruption allegations [BBC timeline] and other charges for several years; he was first charged with corruption in 2005, but those charges were later dismissed [JURIST report] because prosecutors failed to follow proper procedures. In December 2007, South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority [official website] served an indictment [JURIST report] on Zuma, charging him with corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering related to alleged bribes received from arms manufacturer Thint, a subsidiary of the France-based Thales Group [corporate website]. His trial is scheduled to begin in August. As leader of the ruling ANC, Zuma is in a position to become the country's next president when current South African President Thabo Mbeki retires.

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