Prisoners in Jail

By Ahmed Saeed

High courts have no authority for suo moto: SCP

On Tuesday, April 7, the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC) rolled back under trial prisoners’ bails that had been granted by the high courts across the country.

The UTPs had been detained for several severe crimes, while there were also those accused in NAB references and drug-related crimes.

The high courts had issued bails to reduce prison populations to prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in already over-crowded jails.

The Supreme Court in its verdict stated that according to the Constitution of Pakistan, high courts did not have any jurisdictions in taking suo motu notice, while the Islamabad High Court’s (IHC) judgment to release and grant bail to a swathe of UTPs had no legal basis.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) Waleed Iqbal, who is a lawyer and the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Defence, observed that the SC had discarded the IHC’s verdict due to technical reasons.

But the vice-chairperson of the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) Abid Saqi remarked that the IHC’s decision to release prisoners was correct and that the SC should also give legal relief to those accused in NAB and ANF references.

Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz’s (PML-N) Senator Javed Abbasi warned that should the coronavirus disease spread in prisons, it would lead to a major catastrophe.

In a conversation with Voicepk.net, Minister for Women Development in Sindh, Shehla Raza of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said that the Government had a responsibility to protect the lives of prisoners even before they were punished for their crimes – not counting the fact that many of them were not even convicted.

To reduce the prison population in Pakistan, the Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Jawed Khan had issued a list of recommendations to jail authorities which became the basis for IHC’s ruling.

According to these recommendations, the following were considered for legal relief:

  1. Mentally and physically ill UTPs serving sentences of up to 3 years in imprisonment
  2. Women and juvenile detainees serving sentences of up to 3 years in imprisonment
  3. UTPs of the age of 55 years and above, provided they have no previous criminal record
  4. Prisoners who have completed their sentence but were unable to submit fines
  5. Women and juveniles who have served three-fourths of their total sentence period
  6. Prisoners who have less than 6 months remaining in the completion of their sentences and who were not detained for crimes against women and children

The AGP recommended that prisoners involved in crimes against women and children should not be granted release on bail.

The presence of already overcrowded prisons lacking in basic facilities, as a result, is a worrying matter in itself. Now with COVID-19, the issue has been further compounded, with inmates’ health and even lives endangered.

Following the Supreme Court’s verdict, the civil society and the legal fraternity believe that the decision could have finally alleviated jail prison populations, as well as improved administration and allocation of resources in the long term.