WHEN SA TV viewers saw the video footage they could hardly believe their eyes: high court judge Nkola Motata had driven his Jaguar into the wall of a private resident in Johannesburg. Not just that. He was obviously drunk and disorderly, swearing at those who arrived to deal with the situation and resisting arrest. That was in January 2007. Since then the judge has been on suspension, with full pay.
He was convicted of drunk driving in 2009, with an appeal turned down the following year. But even though various attempts were made to have the judicial service commission deal with this as a judicial disciplinary matter, the judge repeatedly filed objections and challenges to the planned hearings. When he finally ran out of legal options, the judicial service commission tribunal sat to hear the matter and has now released its report.
They found him to have been “racist” in the way he spoke to people at the crash site, and “lacking in integrity” in the way he caused his trial to be handled. The tribunal went on to recommend other steps against him that could lead to Judge Motata being the first SA judicial officer impeached since the advent of democracy.
The story of Judge Motata has prompted considerable criticism from the public and the legal profession: for the last ten years he has been on suspension, receiving all the perks of judicial office including salary and new cars, but without doing a day’s work. Now aged 71, he is on pension, and enjoys a judge’s salary for life. There has also been criticism of the delays that he caused by constantly filing new legal action, including constitutional challenges, to prevent any tribunal from hearing the matter.
The tribunal recommended that he be impeached and removed from office, but the judicial service commission must now meet to decide whether to follow these recommendations.
The tribunal report is available on SAFLII.