MASERU – There is no factual basis to conclude that corporal punishment was imposed on a group of inmates tortured by Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) at the Maseru Correctional Institution (MCI) last month, the High Court has ruled. High Court Justice Mabats’oeng Hlaele says no evidence was placed before her to so declare and therefore refused to grant the order.
“There is no factual basis or evidence before this court upon which it can grant prayer 2.4,” she said. Relatives of the tortured inmates had approached the court in December after they were denied the opportunity to visit their relatives. In their application, they had also asked the court to declare that LCS Commissioner and the officer commanding LCS Maseru or their officers acted unlawfully by imposing corporal punishment on their relatives.
Justice Hlaele did not accede to the request, citing lack of evidence to support the claim “save for Liphapang Sefako.” The judge also ruled that right to visitation of inmates is guaranteed by statutes governing the institution and the complainants ought not to have been denied an opportunity to visit. With regards to a prayer that the detainees be allowed to visit a medical practitioner of their choice, the court said “the right to a private medical practitioner is provided for in the statutes, the applicants have made a case for granting of prayer 2.2 with a variation that a medical practitioner shall attend inmates at a correctional facility.”
However, Justice Hlaele says it is to the discretion of LCS whether or not to allow inmates to access private medical care outside the facility. Four family members: ‘Makhabane Seitlheko, Tlaleng Sekhoane, Lieakae Makhoali and Makuena Mpalane had no option but to petition the court to intervene as they were not allowed to visit their family members in December. The sanction was a day after news broke that six inmates escaped from MCI prison. According to Law and Justice Minister, Richard Ramoeletsi, inmates sustained injuries as a result of an operation by LCS management to search unauthorized items in the prison cells following the escape of six who are alleged to have used unauthorized items.
It is during the said operation that some of the inmates were objecting to the search operation and a squabble ensued between them and prison officials resulting in the serious injuries of some. Some alleged that they needed specialists and thereby sought the court’s interference. In granting the judgment, Justice Hlaele bemoaned the fact that lawyers were not helpful to the court. She said until a day before handing of the judgement, she had not received the accused person’s medical records and that even photographs of the inmates after their torture were received late.
“Photographs requested were brought late, what is even worse is that I only received the much needed medical records yesterday at noon,” she said. She added “. . and I have a problem with that because it causes a delay in the issuing of judgments. When judgments delay, its courts that are blamed and people won’t know that sometimes the court awaits documents they request and not receive.”
“I don’t know but if clients were anxious about the outcome of the case, I assume you told them that you were waiting for the court to issue the judgment and did not care to explain that you did not give the court the documents which it ordered at your request.” One of the defence lawyers, Advocate Karabo Mohau KC, replied that they were unable to submit photos on time because those initially captured were blurred and had to be retaken and that medical records delayed because the officers were continuously consulting doctors at Makoanyane military hospital.
The Judge also said lawyers did not bother to submit heads of arguments to assist the court to make an informed decision to which Adv. Mohau again replied that they felt there was no need because their understanding was that the application was not opposed. “I think you have underplayed your case and the impact it has. At a glance, it was as if the application is simple but there was more to it than meets the eye. Had I been assisted with heads of arguments, I would have done things quicker and be more informed or see things from the point of view of the applicants,” Justice Hlaele said.
She added: “I have been denied that benefit so much solely I had to solely rely on the law which I did research on and I think it is unfair on clients and the administration of justice that judges are made research.”