The Judicial Conduct Committee of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has recommended that a tribunal investigate complaints of racism against Judge Mabel Jansen. She faces impeachment should she be found guilty of gross misconduct.

The committee – the first stop for complaints against judges – ruled that “Jansen’s statements suggest that she may harbour certain preconceived biases and potentially at least not be able to bring an open and impartial mind to bear when determining matters that come before her involving a particular sector of our society”.

The situation arose in May after journalist Gillian Schutte posted excerpts of an old exchange she had had with Jansen on Facebook.

Jansen wrote of black people: “In their culture a woman is there to pleasure them.
Period. It is seen as an absolute right and a woman’s consent is not required.

“I still have to meet a black girl who was not raped at about 12. I am dead serious.”

The posts led to a slew of complaints to the JSC against her and a petition was launched on Amandla.Mobi. Jansen was placed on special leave in the wake of the public outcry.

In its ruling, the committee said Jansen had said in her defence that she was referring to specific rape cases that she had presided over and had apologised.

“According to her, the utterances were made in an emotional state, generated by the specific cases she had to deal with,” read the judgment. “She acknowledges, inter alia, that the statements were published in a ‘public forum and have cause tremendous and unjustified hurt’ for which she is profoundly sorry.”

But the committee – chaired by acting deputy chief justice Bess Nkabinde – said that having considered her submissions and those of the complainants, it is “of the view that the complaints, if established, will prima facie indicate incapacity, gross incompetence or gross misconduct on her part”.

The committee’s decision must still be approved by the JSC. Even if it is approved the tribunal will still have to await the outcome of a court case brought to the Constitutional Court by Pretoria Judge Nkola Motata.

Motata, who faces a tribunal himself, has challenged the constitutionality of the disciplinary provisions in the Judicial Conduct Committee Act – which has meant that all tribunals had to be put on ice. – Additional reporting by agency