The Johannesburg High Court has rejected a Judicial Service
Commission (JSC) request to conduct its hearing on the dispute between
Western Cape Judge- President John Hlophe and the Constitutional Court
judges behind closed doors, writes Franny Rabkin in Business Day.
Judge Nigel WillisÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s judgment followed an urgent application by the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) and various media houses to set aside the JSCÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s decision to keep the hearing under wraps.
The JSC yesterday said it had decided not allow the public to attend because it considered it ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œimperative to protect the dignity and stature of the office of the c hief j ustice and the d eputy c hief j ustice and that of the j udge-p residentÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â.
The hearing is to determine two complaints of judicial misconduct made last year. One was made by the judges of the Constitutional Court, that Hlophe sought to improperly influence the outcome of cases then pending before their court involving African National Congress president Jacob Zuma.
The second was HlopheÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s counter-complaint that the way in which the Constitutional Court judges had gone about their complaint infringed his rights and undermined the judiciary.
It said that irrespective of the outcome, a public hearing would be damaging to their offices ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œand, in turn, that of the entire judiciaryÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â.
The JSC rules allow it to permit the media to attend an inquiry ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œunless good cause is shownÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â for their exclusion.
But Willis said the JSC had failed to show good cause and in a case such as this, the constitutional values of transparency and openness required that the hearing be open.
The FXIÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s Jane Duncan said she was ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œelatedÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â and that it was a ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œresounding victory for open justice and freedom of expressionÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â.
Dario Milo of Webber Wentzel attorneys, who represented Avusa Media, Independent Newspapers and the Mail & Guardian, said the JSCÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s inquiry ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œis one of the most significant inquiries to be heard in SA in recent timesÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â.
ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œIt would be unthinkable for it to be held in secret.ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â
Click here to read the full report, posted on Business Day's website.