Families advocate for prosecution in Life Esidimeni deaths

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Legal representatives for the families of the deceased patients say there’s enough evidence to prosecute those responsible for their deaths.

Lawyers for some of the Life Esidimeni NGOs asked the court to show leniency towards the carers of the deceased mental health patients.

The inquest that resumed last Thursday aims to determine if anyone can be held criminally liable for the deaths of the 144 patients after their relocation from Life Esidimeni in June 2016.

As lawyers continue with their heads of argument in the Esidimeni case, Advocate Ebenezer Prophy, who represents the Ubuhle Benkosi and Mosego NGOs argued that the patients who were under his clients’ care died of natural causes even though the circumstances surrounding their deaths remain questionable.

“I agree with the evidence leaders in both the dock 86 102 no living person can be held responsible for the deaths so there is no need for the submissions or further investigations in that regard,” says Advocate Ebenezer Prophy, representing Ubuhle Benkosi and Mosego NGOs.

Both NGOs have been fingered in the tragedy, but their lawyers have argued that the Life Esidimeni management failed to provide, detailed and correct medical records for each patient.

“It was unreasonable to expect the NGOs to puzzle together the correct and appropriate level of care, it’s clear that the medical records submitted, interrupted the medical care of the users and as a consequence of Life Esidimeni’s breach of the Mental Health Act prompted section 70 which relates to offences of failing to take care of a mental health user by failing to provide adequate medical records,” says Prophy.

But evidence leaders say if the moving of patients had been planned properly and all medical and relevant documents had been submitted to the new locations, they would have been able to foresee the problems that would arise and deal with them before the Esidimeni patients lost their lives.

“Foreseeability is important in respect of the only two criminal offences that may be relevant to this matter and that is both murder or culpable homicide both involve foreseeability as part of the test and as far as Dolis Eventualis, that requires subjectivity,” says Evidence leader, Advocate Harry van Bergen SC.

Last week civil society movement Section 27 asked the court to criminally charge former Gauteng Health MEC Qedane Mahlangu for the 144 deaths. In her testimony, Mahlangu had said she terminated the Life Esidimeni contract following pressure from provincial heads to trim the fat from the bulging health budget. The inquiry continues.