Parliament is taking significant steps towards the impeachment vote for Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe and retired Gauteng Judge Nkola Motata. The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services has recently adopted a framework that will guide the process of removing the two judges from their positions.
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) had recommended the removal of Hlophe and Motata from the bench after they were both found guilty of gross misconduct in separate cases. Dr Barbara Loots, a parliamentary legal adviser, emphasized that the committee must consider Section 177 of the Constitution during the impeachment process.
According to Dr Loots, neither the JSC nor the National Assembly are subordinate to each other, as their roles differ but are equal. The National Assembly is not allowed to reassess the merits of the findings against Motata and Hlophe, as this responsibility falls within the jurisdiction of the JSC. However, Members of Parliament (MPs) will need to make a political decision in both cases.
Dr Loots proposed a six-step process, which the committee agreed to adopt, to handle the procedural aspects of the impeachment. The first step is for the committee to formally acknowledge the gross misconduct findings.
The second step involves seeking a procedural briefing from a JSC official. Although this official cannot discuss the merits of the case, they will be bound by the process.
The third step is to provide Motata and Hlophe with the opportunity to make representations to the National Assembly regarding any extenuating circumstances.
While this will not change the guilty finding, it could impact the final decision on whether to impeach the judges or not. Dr Loots drew a parallel to the criminal justice system, where individuals can present additional factors during sentencing that may lead to a lesser punishment.
It is crucial to follow a fair and thorough process when dealing with the impeachment of judges, as their role in upholding the law and ensuring justice is of utmost importance. The adoption of this framework by the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services demonstrates their commitment to ensuring accountability within the judiciary.