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South Africa Court Questions Judge's Influence in Zuma Case

South Africa's Constitutional Court has lodged a formal complaint with the Judicial Services Commission that one of the country's most senior judges attempted to influence two members of the court in cases affecting African National Congress President Jacob Zuma. Delia Robertson reports from VOA's Johannesburg bureau.

In a complaint on behalf of all the judges of the Constitutional Court, Chief Justice Pius Langa says Judge John Hlophe attempted to influence two members of the court in cases affecting ANC President Jacob Zuma.

Hlophe, the judge president of the Cape Province courts division, is said to have told Judge Bess Nkabinde that the "privilege issues" in the cases affecting Zuma had to be "decided" properly.

This relates to applications by Zuma that reams of evidence was unlawfully seized by the state and should not be allowed as evidence in the upcoming corruption case against Zuma and others.

Hlophe apparently knew that Nkabinde was writing a so-called "post hearing" note on the case. These notes are usually compiled by a single judge after a hearing and may include recommendations for a decision. They are circulated to the panel of judges for consideration before they meet to determine the case.

Hlophe is said to have told his old friend and acting constitutional court Judge Chris Jafta in isiZulu that he was "Sesithembele kinina", or "our last hope". He allegedly also told both judges he had a mandate and that he had connections in official intelligence circles.

In the complaint the chief justice made it clear to the Judicial Services Commission that there is no evidence to suggest that Zuma, and others accused in the case or their legal council were involved the Hlophe's alleged actions.

The matter has prompted great concern among South Africans who strongly support the independence of the judiciary as a fundamental pillar on which to further build their democracy principles.

Constitutional law expert Shadrack Gutto tells VOA that such incidents can have a profound affect on societies.

"Once that begins to take place then you are dealing with a situation when the justice system gets corrupted," said Gutto. "This time it may be somebody in a particular case, another case may be very different. And all of them endanger the whole administration of justice, and make the public lose confidence in the judiciary."

The Judicial Services Commission has oversight over the administration of justice, the appointment of judges and disciplinary measures involving the judiciary.

It is comprised of senior judges, members of parliament, as well as representatives from law schools, private legal practice and the Department of Justice.

The commission holds public hearings for those who have been recommended or who apply for judicial appointments and makes recommendations for appointments to the president of South Africa. Until now, the president has accepted the commission's recommendations, imposing his own choice only in cases where more than one candidate was recommended for the post.

Hlophe has ten days in which to answer the complaint, and the Constitutional Court five days to respond to that. Gutto says that if the commission upholds the court's complaint, it will need to impose a sanction that sends a very clear message that such behavior will not be tolerated.