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Source: Open Secrets
Image: Open Secrets

Open Secrets and Shadow World Investigations welcome the judgment delivered by the South Gauteng High Court which confirms that judges must be held accountable for their conduct while in active service, even after their retirement. It is an important victory for accountability and the integrity of the judiciary.

The court held that “the foundations of the challenge to the jurisdiction of the JSC [by the Judges] are weak”, and further confirmed that “the interest that drives the applicants is their reputation and a decision to endeavour to prevent any enquiry at all that might result in a blemish”.

For years, Judges Willie Seriti and Hendrick Musi have sought to evade accountability for their questionable conduct at the Arms Deal Commission. The judges were appointed to lead the Inquiry into Allegations of Fraud, Corruption, and Wrongdoing in the multi-billion-rand Strategic Procurement of Arms back in 1999. Yet the commission’s findings were set aside by the courts because the Judges fundamentally failed to consider the evidence before them. In some cases, they appear to have misled the public about the existence of certain important evidence of corruption – evidence of a deliberate cover-up.

Today’s judgment means that the conduct of Seriti and Musi can finally be scrutinised by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), nearly three years after it should have been. In 2020, Open Secrets and Shadow World Investigations wrote to the chairperson of the JSC to investigate the two judges for their apparent misconduct during the Arms Deal Commission, and to sanction them for any misconduct found. We also asked the JSC to consider referring any evidence of criminal conduct by the Judges to the National Prosecuting Authority. Chief Justice Raymond Zondo (then acting chair of the Judicial Conduct Committee) agreed that the duo must be investigated by the JSC’s Judicial Conduct Committee. Zondo wrote:

“In accordance with section 16(1) of the Judicial Service Commission Act (Act 9 of 1994) (JSC Act) I am satisfied that, in the event of Shadow World Investigations and Open Secret’s complaint being established, it is likely to lead to a finding by the Judicial Service Commission that Judge Seriti and Judge Musi are guilty of gross misconduct as envisaged in section 14(4) of the JSC Act”.

Instead of co-operating with the process, the two judges launched a frivolous application arguing that retired judges should not be included in the definition of a judge under the JSC Act, and therefore could not be subject to JCC disciplinary processes.

The court dismissed this argument, vindicating our efforts to ensure that judges Seriti and Musi are investigated and held to account for their efforts to cover up wrongdoing in the Arms Deal.

“Today reaffirms what we already knew to be true – that thinly veiled attempts to escape justice and accountability are not acceptable and our courts upheld that belief today. After a protracted period of litigation, we can finally begin the work of hearing for the first time why judges Seriti and Musi failed to conduct the Arms Deal Commission according to their duties and see that appropriate action is taken to sanction their failings,” says Open Secrets lawyer Luthando Vilakazi.