It is “perfectly legitimate” for Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to express his views on transformation of the judiciary and the legal profession.
This was the finding of the Judicial Conduct Committee, which last week dismissed Advocate Paul Hoffman’s complaint against Mogoeng as “rather disingenuous” and “simply far-fetched”.
The complaint was considered by a panel consisting of Free State Judge President Thekiso Musi and North Gauteng High Court Judge Cynthia Pretorius and was made public by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) today.
A war of words has been raging in legal circles on the topic of a speech Mogoeng made, entitled a Duty to Transform.
In his speech, Mogoeng questioned critics of the JSC’s appointment of judges, saying these “developments seem to suggest that war has been declared against transformation.
“People are clutching at straws to discredit the JSC. They seem to want the JSC they can dictate to.”
Musi found that it was “perfectly legitimate for (Mogoeng) to participate in a debate about transformation of the judiciary and to express his views on what he perceived to be resistance to it”.
“His frankly expressed views were bound to sit uncomfortably with sections of the legal profession and the judiciary but cannot be said to undermine the standing and integrity of the judiciary.”
Paul Hoffman had complained to the JSC that Mogoeng’s speech amounted to racism, arguing that Mogoeng had brought the judiciary into disrepute and was guilty of contempt of court, given that the Helen Suzman Foundation has launched a court case about the weight the JSC attaches to transformation when appointing judges.
“The most serious aspects (of the complaint) include allegations of contempt of court and attempting to defeat the ends of justice, which it is alleged amount to gross misconduct, justifying impeachment,” a press release from Hoffman said.
But Musi said that given Mogoeng’s position as “head of the judiciary a public debate about transformation of the judiciary is one that he was not only entitled to participate in, but also one that he could not avoid”.
Musi found that Hoffman’s contention that “by engaging in such a debate (Mogoeng) descended into the political arena is rather disingenuous”.
He also said that Hoffman seems to suggest that the institution of the Helen Suzman Foundation case meant “the issues raised therein should come to an end until the case is decided”.
“This cannot be correct. It is noteworthy that not once did the respondent mention such case in his speech.”
Whenever a complaint is made against a judge, it goes to the judicial conduct committee, a subcommittee of the JSC.
The committee appoints a panel such as the present one to conduct a preliminary investigation.
If the complaint is not justified, it may be summarily dismissed, such as in Mogoeng’s case.
Hoffman will now have one month to appeal the finding to the judicial conduct committee.
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