State attorney Tebogo Hutamo has requested that a clinical psychologist’s evidence describing trauma and anxiety experienced by former Life Esidimeni patients be set aside at the arbitration.
Hutamo said Coralie Trotter’s evidence should be ruled inadmissible as she did not personally interview victims’ families. The documents she based her evidence on were provided by public interest law centre Section 27, pointing to possible influence, he added.
“I submit that that you make a ruling on the difficulties we have had with the witness since Friday. She is entirely relying on hearsay evidence. The witness’ evidence is based on information she was not privy to…there were people who were privy to the information. It has been clearly stated that she did not interview a single family member,” said Hutamo on Monday.
“All that she relies on is her colleagues…those are the people who are in a better position to express on this evidence. The opinion should be made and based on facts known by those who collated the evidence, not the other way around.”
Trotter testified last week that the treatment of the patients that resulted in 143 of them dying at unlicensed NGOs was dehumanising, caused anxiety and trauma, including to their families.
Moving the former Life Esidimeni mental patients had a deep impact on the vulnerable patients, and were shocked by the sudden change of environment that was unfamiliar to them. The trauma suffered was almost similar to torture, said Trotter.
Arbitration chairman, former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, asked whether an expert can only testify on evidence solely collected by her and not others. “Do you want each and every of those 17 clinicians [who interviewed the victims’ families] to come her and testify?” he asked, to which Hutamo replied that it was up to Section 27 whether all or one can come forward and testify, but that he objected to Trotter’s evidence.
Moseneke replied: “An expert opinion can formulate an opinion based on facts. She does not have to produce the facts…the facts are placed before the expert, and she is entitled to provide an opinion. Are you saying there are no underlying facts?”
“Yes, we say the opinion is based on hearsay evidence, her opinion will be flawed if it is not based on facts before the arbitration,” Hutamo replied.
Adilla Hassim, for Section 27, dismissed Hutamo’s argument. “The methodology was to work together with the [psychiatric team] and gather the facts and expert reports, not just from an ordinary person but from experts. Miss Trotter, and her team did this work pro bono, further told us that so concerned was she by the process that she had it independently peer reviewed by an attorney and an expert professor in psycho analysis to provide oversight for her and her team,” Hassim said.
Based on facts presented to Trotter, she put forward an expert opinion to assist this process, she added. “So Justice, that application should be dismissed. Furthermore, we are all here to get to the truth. I do not understand the motive of the state counsel for taking this route they are taking regarding the expert witness…those are my submissions.”
Moseneke dismissed Hutamo’s application. ”We heard directly from other witnesses about the hurried nature of the project, the suffering and hunger the patients went through. Those clinicians have what we already been told here. They themselves are secondhand reporters of what they have been told…nothing is uncontested there. What facts are you saying are not before us? the application is dismissed.”