Judge President embarrassed by colleague’s behavior

Henry

By Tania Broughton, GroundUp

The “gross negligence” of Tshifhiwa Maumela, the Pretoria High Court judge, embarrassed Dunstan Mlambo, Gauteng judge president, because Maumela’s actions led to general distrust in the justice system, Mlambo testified this week.

In his testimony before a judicial service commission (JSC) tribunal investigating complaints of gross incompetence and misconduct against Maumela regarding his delivery of late judgments, Mlambo repeatedly said that he was “embarrassed” by what was happening under his management.

He says Maumela generally ignored his messages and phone calls and apart from once claiming his computer had crashed, he never gave any explanation as to why he was not delivering judgments on time.

“I don’t want to sit here as a complainer, but I believe judges must do the work for which they took an oath and what they said they were going to do,” said Mlambo.

Maumela is accused of not maintaining the standard of delivering judgments within three to six months (depending on the circumstances). It relates to 52 cases since 2013.

In two cases that were discussed during Mlambo’s testimony, the ruling took five years. In one of these cases, which was related to a claim about medical negligence, the claimant died before a verdict could be delivered. In another case, which was not considered complicated at all, Maumela finally delivered a nine-page judgment.

Evidence leader Andrian Mopp asked Mlambo if he usually advises litigants to complain directly to the RDK, to which he replied that this is indeed the case.

“It was never my intention to be the complainant against a judge. We are colleagues. But lawyers don’t want to complain. They say they are not willing to do this because they work in the department and do not want to be victimized.

“When the verdicts (which were reserved) started piling up, I decided to be brave and file the complaint myself.”

Mlambo says Maumela would undertake to deliver judgments by certain dates and then simply not do so – even if the litigants had appointed legal representatives to appear on that day.

There were also cases where he had partially heard criminal cases adjourned. The parties would then arrive at the court – in one case a lawyer traveled all the way from Cape Town to Pretoria – while Maumela did not even turn up.

As a senior judge, Maumela had a light workload in relation to other judges and mainly dealt with criminal cases.

Mlambo says the first time the issue of “poor health” was raised was when Maumela asked for special sick leave. At this stage he heard the trial of the murdered football captain Senzo Meyiwa. It was then adjourned.

Drink tea

Mlambo says Maumela was never supposed to hear the case. Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba instructed that he only had to deal with the pre-trial case management.

“Judge Ledwaba and I agreed that he should not handle the trial and should give feedback as soon as the pre-trial was concluded. It never happened. He decided to start the trial directly and hear evidence. By then the bullet had passed through the church.

“Even the chief justice called me. There was an allegation that he (Maumela) drank tea during the proceedings. I called him about it and he said he had a condition that meant he had to drink a hot drink.

“But he was never supposed to hear the case. He has shown me, as the head of his court, that he is prone to incompetence. And he did not comply with the directive.”

Mlambo says that in his opinion Maumela is guilty of gross misconduct and gross incompetence.

“He is in the top ten senior judges in the division. I still don’t know why he reserved these statements for so long. The health reason was presented in 2023. It was never raised before.

“When litigants are waiting for verdicts, it means the justice system is not working. Writing judgments is the reason for our existence as judges. He failed and it brought the judiciary into disrepute.

“I don’t enjoy sitting here when a judge doesn’t take his side. As judge president, I must take steps to correct this.”

The tribunal ruled that Maumela’s testimony will be heard behind closed doors.

During his cross-examination, Adv. Ghandi Badela, on behalf of Maulema, put it to the tribunal that his client would not handle the case management, that the trial was assigned to him, that the parties arrived at his chambers and said the case was ready to proceed.

Mlambo replied: “Are you saying I’m lying?”

Badela says Maumela will testify that he was overloaded, that he lost files when his computer crashed, that he sometimes had “conflicting court schedules” and that he had a stroke in 2020.

Mlambo says he did not know about the stroke, “because he (Maumela) did not tell me. He was not even aware that Maumela was not at work, should that be the case”.

He says Gauteng judges are overloaded. That’s why candidates, even before they make the shortlist as judges, must serve two full terms as a judge “so they understand” what lies ahead.

The tribunal consists of judges Chris Jafta and Dennis Davis, as well as Adv. Nasreen Rajah-Budlender. The case lasts until the end of the week.

If he is found guilty, Maumela can be placed in a state of accusation.

  • This report was originally posted by GroundUp and is used with permission.