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Prisoner release elicits cheers and scowls

The Express Tribune 2020-03-27 03:08:01

After the Islamabad High Court (IHC) order to release prisoners, the Lahore High Court (LHC) and Sindh High Court (SHC) have evolved different methods on the administrative side for setting the inmates free to prevent the spread of coronavirus in jails.

Earlier, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, while issuing the judicial orders, granted bail to 408 prisoners.

On the direction of Sindh High Court Chief Justice Ahmed Ali Sheikh, 829 under-trial prisoners (UTPs) have been released from the prisons of the province by district courts in cases of lesser punishment.

Likewise, Lahore High Court has also passed a directive on the administrative side by directing the superintendent jails to move bail for different categories of prisoners to the district courts.

Balochistan High Court (BHC) and Peshawar High Court (PHC) may also follow suit.

On the other hand, the government functionaries are not impressed with the manner in which the high courts have been passing directives for the release of prisoners.

They have already, on different occasions, expressed concern over the IHC orders to set the inmates free.

A senior government official while talking to said that the Supreme Court should take cognizance of the matter and issue uniform guidelines regarding the release of prisoners.

However, he admitted that it would not be easy for the executive to approach the apex court on the subject in the prevailing circumstances.

A senior lawyer wondered why the National Judicial Policy Making Committee (NJPMC) had not deliberated on the issues of Extension of Limitation Act and release of prisoners in its recent meeting on March 19.

“Now, superior courts have adopted different approaches on both matters,” he said.

However, a senior official working for Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan told that the matter about release of under-trial prisoners was on the agenda of the NJPMC meeting.

“Even the proposal about the release of prisoners was shared with the participants of the meeting,” he said.

“However, the committee resolved that the matter be left on high courts to deal it in consultation with the respective governments,” he added.

Interestingly, the press release issued after the NJPMC meeting did not mention the development.

Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Abid Saqi said it would have been much better if the apex court passed the direction under Article 184 (3) in order to maintain uniformity and consistency in the country.

He lamented that the proposals of the bar on different issues especially the suspension of limitation Act were overlooked by the top court.

However, he appreciated the high courts for passing the directives regarding the release of prisoners.

The PBC vice chairman said the bar would fully back the IHC CJ regarding his steps about the dispensation of justice and enforcement of rights in the country.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has issued notification about extending the limitation period for filing of appeals against high courts orders.

According to the notification, in exercise of power under Article 191 with Supreme Court Rules, for the purpose of section 4 of Limitation

Act 1908, all the institutional branches of the Supreme Court shall be deemed closed from March 22 to April 21 for those litigants who are unable to approach this court on account of lockdown announced by federal and provincial governments.

There shall be no bar on the filing of applications, petitions and appeals within statutory period of limitation, said the notification issued by SC Registrar Khawaja Daud.

On Thursday, Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) President Syed Qalb-e-Hassan filed a constitutional petition under Article 184 (3) on the same subject.