Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has acceded to a request by the National Prosecuting Authority that a joint hearing be conducted into the Life Esidimeni deaths, and has requested that Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo designate a judge to preside over an inquest in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria…
This comes after the acting director of public prosecutions in Gauteng, advocate George Baloyi, referred the docket for a formal inquest in September, more than three years after the Life Esidimeni tragedy.
Investigators were unable to gather enough evidence to bring charges against anyone linked to the deaths in 144 cases it probed.
In total, 144 psychiatric patients died, many of starvation and neglect, after the Gauteng health department cancelled its outsourced contract with Life Esidimeni to save money, transferring thousands of patients out of the facility.
“Subsequent to his decision and as per dictates of Section 6(d) of the Inquest Act 58 of 1959, the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Shamila Batohi, submitted a request to Minister Lamola to approach the Judge President’s office to appoint a presiding officer to preside over the inquest,” the NPA said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The NPA will await further guidance from the Judge President’s office in relation to the period, duration and presiding officer appointed to conduct the joint inquest hearing,” the statement said.
Government officials ‘breached the law’
Last year, the NPA said Baloyi had decided that a “formal and joint inquest into all deaths related to the Esidimeni tragedy be held in the High Court of Pretoria before a judge”, according to a statement by NPA spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane.
An arbitration was established on the recommendation of the health ombudsman after the release of a damning report which detailed findings regarding the deaths of psychiatric patients when they were transferred to unsuitable NGOs in 2015.
“The [inquiry], led by retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, concluded its work in March 2018 and found that government officials acted in breach of the law and the Constitution when they ended the Life Esidimeni contract and moved patients to NGOs without due regard for their wellbeing and state of health,” Mjonondwane said.
In April 2017, the NPA received 144 dockets relating to the tragedy
Baloyi then assembled a team of four experience advocates to work with investigators to collect more information and build a case.
“Led by a very senior advocate, they devoted most of their attention to a very protracted investigation, converting all 144 enquiry dockets into one docket, guiding investigations and monitoring progress on further documentation/statements that had to be obtained,” Mjonondwane said.
She added, however, that the process “has revealed that the evidence at our disposal currently, is not enough to prove causation of death nor is it enough to help us link the actions of different role players to the eventual deaths”.
Mjonondwane said that, based on this background, a determination was made whether a prima facie case justifying prosecution could be made.
“The state therefore correctly sets out the legal principles applicable to the problem and upon thorough assessment of all the available facts and circumstances; came to a conclusion that the matter be referred for a formal inquest.”