COVID-19 Special Coverage
South Africa appeals court upholds judicial bias complaint in Zuma corruption case
South Africa appeals court upholds judicial bias complaint in Zuma corruption case

[JURIST] The South African Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) [official website] on Tuesday held [judgment, PDF; media summary, PDF] that the judges of the Constitutional Court [official website] acted lawfully in filing a grievance against Cape Judge President John Hlophe alleging that Hlophe had tried to influence their decision in a corruption case against African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. The judges appealed a decision by the High Court at Johannesburg finding that Hlophe had a right to be heard before the court submitted its complaint to the country's judicial disciplinary body, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) [backgrounder, DOC]. The SCA overruled the High Court decision, finding that since the judges were "not performing a judicial function" in filing the complaint, they were not obligated to provide Hlohpe an opportunity to be heard. The SCA further held that the publication of the allegations in the media was not improper in light of the judges' belief that another member of the judiciary was acting unlawfully, saying that:

It will always be distressing for a judge to learn in the media that he or she has been accused of misconduct but that seems to us to be an inevitable hazard of holding public office. … [W]e do not think that his or her remedy lies in stifling the fact that a complaint has been made.

The SCA noted that Hlophe's relief would be to fight the complaint in the JCS proceedings, and to sue for defamation if the allegations prove false.

The judges of the Constitutional Court filed their complaint [JURIST report] with the JCS last June, alleging that Hlophe had unlawfully tried to influence their decision in the Zuma corruption case in violation of the constitutional prohibition [Schedule 2, Item 6 text] against administering justice with favor or prejudice. Hlophe's alleged unconstitutional behavior relates to 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.