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Judges, advocate named in racism report

Publish date: 28 February 2005
Issue Number: 119
Diary: Legalbrief Africa Old
Category: South Africa

The ongoing row over racism in the South African judiciary deepened over the past week following the leaking of report alleging bias among leading lawyers and judges.

The 43-page report was compiled by Cape Judge President John Hlophe and points fingers at his deputy, a predecessor and one of South Africa\'s top anti-apartheid lawyers. The Cape Times, which has a copy of the report, quotes Hlophe as saying Deputy Cape Judge President Jeanette Traverso, former Cape Judge President Edwin King and Senior Counsel Jeremy Gauntlett undermined his authority because he is black and spread rumours about him. The report has since been handed to Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla and Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson, who has appointed a subcommittee of senior judges to consider it. According to Hlophe\'s report, he had been subjected to racism from the legal fraternity for 10 years, from the time when he was appointed as a Cape High Court judge in 1995. Full report in the Cape Times

Judge Hlophe’s allegations have received the full support of another Cape High Court Judge, James Yekiso. He is quoted in a report in The Mercury as saying he, too, has encountered racism among the Cape legal fraternity. ‘Prior to my appointment in 2002, I acted for two terms and I had the profound feeling from a number of colleagues that I was not welcome,’ he said. Tensions in the Cape division appeared to ease with time, he said. That was until late last year when tensions boiled over after rumours started in the judiciary that he had not been the author of a key judgment upholding the government’s pricing regulations.
The Mercury report not available online

Some of those put in the racism dock have expressed their surprise at being named. Senior Counsel Jeremy Gauntlett said Hlophe had written a positive report about him as recently as last October. ‘Judge President Hlophe asked me to be an acting judge in his division and wrote a letter to the Minister of Justice in which he said kind things about me. I don\'t understand why he would have done that as late as last October if in fact he thought of me as a racist by reference to events, which had happened, according to him, a year or two ago,’ he said in an SABC News report. Full SABC News report

Judge King said he wasextremely ‘concerned. The Sunday Independent quotes him as saying that since he had not yet seen the report, all he wanted to say was that ‘my record, which goes back 50 years, speaks for itself – so it seems to me completely unacceptable to refer to me as a racist’. King said because the sub-committee appointed by Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson was apparently due to meet in April, he considered the matter sub [i]judice[/i]. Full report in the Sunday Independent