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Prison Escape Hearings Set to Commence This Month

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Staff reporter

The Commission tasked with investigating the December 2023 escape from the Maseru Central Correctional Facility has announced the commencement of its proceedings starting from May 13, 2024. 

Justice Realeboha Mathaba, the Commission Chair, made this announcement yesterday in Maseru, pledging a mission of transparency.

He highlighted that the commission’s mandate is to address the events of December 21st and 22nd, 2023, which resulted in the loss of one inmate’s life and the permanent disability of another.

“According to section 3 of the Public Inquiries Act No. 1 of 1994, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Lesotho set up the Commission to amongst others investigate the circumstances surrounding the escape of inmates from Maseru Central Correctional Institution and the use of force during the search operation that followed. 

“In short, the Commission has to address the events that took place at the Institution on the 21st and the 22nd December 2023 which we are told amongst others resulted in one inmate losing his life and the other permanently disabled,” Justice Mathaba noted.

He indicated that since its establishment, the Commission interacted with the Ministry of Law and Justice to ensure a common understanding of its Terms of Reference and alignment of expectations. 

“Accordingly, a need to refine the Terms of Reference to expressly curtail the scope of the Commission to Maseru Central Correctional Institution became evident given the limited time the Commission has to finalise its work as well as resources at its disposal. Besides procedural issues that needed to be revisited, in particular, whether the proceedings have to be held in camera or not. Another important issue that required proactive engagement was the two months allocated to the Commission to finish its work from April 5, 2024. 

“Given that the Gazette establishing the Commission was availed to the Chair of the Commission on April 16, 2024; the time it took to resource the Commission and the enormous unavoidable preparatory work that must happen before the Commission hears evidence, a need to revisit its term became obvious. We have been advised that the Commission‘s concerns in this regard are being addressed.”

He added that while the terms of reference are being revisited, the Commission has resolved to proceed with consideration of reports from the Ombudsman and the Commissioner of LCS.”

Furthermore, Justice Mathaba stated that the Commission’s legal team has begun identifying witnesses, with consultations ongoing. 

Despite acknowledging that consultations with affected parties are ongoing, the Commission has decided to commence hearing evidence on May 13, 2024.

“Although the Legal Team has indicated that interviews and consultations with affected people are far from over, the Commission is aware that there will never be a perfect time to start hearing evidence. All that we need is to be in a better position to start so that our work and the quality of our deliverables is not compromised. Therefore, the Commission has resolved to start hearing evidence on May 13,  2024. 

“While we are not in a position at this stage to confirm that all potential witnesses would have been consulted, we are confident that the Legal Team would have reached a sizable number of them as well as having made contact with implicated people in terms of the law,” he said.

He added, “All proceedings of the Commission will be conducted at the Maseru Correctional Institution, starting from 0830 to 1630 hours until the commission concludes its work.”

Guided by the constitution of Lesotho, the Public Enquiry’s Act, its terms of reference, and the rules, Justice Mathaba indicated that the commission would carry out its work independently and objectively, examining all relevant or alleged violations and abuses regardless of the identity and status of the perpetrators. 

In conclusion, Justice Mathaba invited the public with information relevant to the commission’s work to contact the Registrar of the Commission, whose office will be situated at the Admiration Block at the Maseru Correctional Institution.

The commission comprises Realeboha Mathaba, Chair of the Commission and Judge in the High Court; Kelebone Maope, former Deputy Prime Minister, ambassador, and Attorney General representing Lesotho abroad; and Mojalefa Thulo, former LCS Commissioner.

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