–SC to examine legality of release orders on April 6
ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmad on Wednesday said that due process must be followed for the release of under-trial prisoners.
A five-member bench of the Supreme Court (SC) led by the chief justice heard a petition pertaining to the release of under-trial prisoners on the orders of high courts.
While hearing arguments, the top judge asked under what law can the suspects and accused be released, adding that it was already very difficult to arrest the accused in cases. “The police are busy with the coronavirus emergency. How can we let criminals be out on the roads as well?” he asked.
He noted that the Islamabad High Court (IHC) order regarding the release of prisoners is legally incorrect, adding that the same is being done by the Sindh High Court (SHC) by issuing a vague four-line statement regarding the release of 829 prisoners. “Nobody knows who these released prisoners are,” the CJP remarked.
He pointed out that following the release of prisoners in Karachi, robberies have already started taking place and the city’s DHA area is under the control of robbers. “Thieves are emptying houses under the pretext of checking for coronavirus patients,” he added.
The top judge remarked that due to the coronavirus, the businesses of the corrupt have also been affected. He noted that those accused of corruption have also been released by the courts. However, the CJP persisted, saying that if the corrupt do not get a chance to do their corruption, they too will start resorting to crime.
He further said that any decision pertaining to the release of prisoners must take into consideration the facts on the ground.
“Coronavirus will not go away by emptying the jails. The law is present for taking care of prisoners,” remarked Justice Qazi Faez Isa.
Justice Sajjad Ali Shah added that the law says that prisoners affected by COVID-19 should be kept under quarantine.
Attorney General of Pakistan (AJP) Khalid Javed Khan said that if the virus spreads in jails, the apex will be held responsible.
The CJP replied that the courts work in accordance with the law and they have no concern about any allegation.
Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin said that the virus cannot be fought by releasing all prisoners and vacating the jails. He added that a method is already available to protect the prisoners.
Justice Sajjad Ali Shah inquired whether those accused by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) come under the category of minor offences.
Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Qalb-e-Hasan, who was representing those who have supported the decision to release prisoners, argued that a team of doctors has yet to visit jails.
He also reminded the court that the jails can keep 57,742 prisoners in total, but are housing 77,275 instead. “Only 25,456 prisoners are convicted, while there are more than 48,000 who are still under trial,” noted the SCBA president. He further pointed out that 90 newborn babies are also in jail with their mothers.
The lawyer said that after God, the courts are the only hope for the helpless. He complained that the government has not done anything yet for the people languishing in jails. “I urge the court to defend the rights of prisoners,” Hasan pleaded.
The AGP once again warned the court that if coronavirus spreads in the jails, no one will say the government failed to do something. “The people will say that the Supreme Court did not allow the release of under-trial prisoners,” he added.
However, the CJP once again dismissed the concern, saying he did not care about such stuff and that the court has to consider the law.
The attorney general then recommended that the court at least release those prisoners who are under trial for minor crimes.
“Under trial prisoners over the age of 55 should also be released,” suggested the AG. He added that juvenile under-trial prisoners should also be given bail.
He, however, conceded that those prisoners who are under trial for corruption and dealing in narcotics should not be released.
“Those under-trial for violence against women and children should also not be released,” the AG argued, while also advising against the release of any who have had a criminal record.
“Prisoners do not have a home, so why do they [the government] want to kick them out on the streets?” the CJP wondered.
To this, the AGP appealed to the court to issue a “uniform guideline” in case of the release of prisoners.
Before wrapping up the day’s proceedings, the apex court sought details by April 6 from federal and provincial authorities about the number of inmates and the capacity in jails.
The judges also asked officials to inform the court about the exact number of accused and convicts currently incarcerated in jails across the country.
The bench also directed that it be provided a list of female prisoners and those who are above 60. It should meanwhile be ensured that no one affected by the novel coronavirus enters into a prison, the court has ordered.
The SC also ordered the establishment of a quarantine facility in all jails.
The apex court will examine the legality of the release orders of prisoners on April 6.