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Supreme Court Asks High Courts, Provincial Authorities To Refrain From Decisions On Releasing Prisoners Due to Coronavirus

The Supreme Court has suspended any decisions made by high courts on the release of prisoners due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This came as a five-member bench of the Supreme Court was hearing an appeal against the exercise of suo moto powers by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on the issue of prisoners under trial.

Earlier, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah had called for issuing bail to prisoners of the overcrowded Adiala Jail who are facing trial for minor crimes, in order to prevent the spread of the novel Coronavirus. The Lahore High Court Chief Justice Qasim Khan had also taken a similar stance, asking prison officials to prepare a list of prisoners who are serving minor sentences and prepare for issuing bail to such inmates.

During the latest proceedings at the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice of Pakistan asked how it was that the high courts had issued directives for releasing prisoners. “How can a high court take suo moto notice in this regard?” he asked. The CJP went on to reaffirm that prisoners involved in minor crimes ought to be released, but that the IHC had ordered the release of all inmates except those charged with terrorism offenses.

The Supreme Court has also asked high courts and provincial government authorities to refrain from issuing any further directives in this regard. The Chief Justice stated that during a crisis, people could not start making decisions which are not within their jurisdiction. Moreover, while the Coronavirus situation was noted as being a grave one, the Court stated that prisoners involved in serious crimes could not be released simply due to Coronavirus fears.

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The hearing is adjourned by the Supreme Court until the 8th of April. Notices have been issued to the federal government, advocate generals, National Accountability Bureau (NAB), provincial authorities, police and jail officials.

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