ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court of Pakistan will resume hearing of the petition regarding the release of prisoners due to the coronavirus crisis on Monday (today).

A five-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed will conduct hearing in this matter wherein it had previously issued directions to the Inspectors General Prisons of all provinces, ICT and Gilgit Baltistan to submit reports regarding the population of prisoners in their respective jails and the actual capacity of the prisons.

Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed had filed a criminal miscellaneous application containing the recommendations in this connections and the Court was called upon to exercise its power under Articles 184(3) and 187 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973 in dealing with the matters relating to the prisoners in jails all over Pakistan, in the wake of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

President Supreme Court Bar Association Qalb-e-Hassan had also submitted a report with the heading “what makes Pakistani prisoners more vulnerable through the Coronavirus” in which some statistics have been mentioned. The most relevant is that there are 114 Jails in Pakistan which have the capacity of accommodating 57,742 prisoners but in fact, there are 77,275 prisoners in these Jails.


He added that these prisoners who are in jail have been divided into two categories; one, convicted and the other, under trial. It mentions that there are 25,246 convicted prisoners, while 48,008 are under trial prisoners, and amongst them, there are 1,184 women prisoners, who also have their children in jail, and there are 1,500 elderly prisoners above the age of 60 years. The President of SCBAP has contended that at least the vulnerable prisoners, namely, the women prisoners and elderly prisoners, above the age of 60 years, may be granted benefit of bail, so that they can be saved from being infected from the Coronavirus.


The apex court said in its order that Advocate General, Punjab and the Additional Advocate General, ICT, who are present in Court and the Advocate General so also the Prosecutor General Sindh and Advocate General KP and Balochistan participated in the hearing through video link.


It noted, “We have also heard Sheikh Zameer Hussain, the learned amicus curiae, who has appeared in Court in terms of Court’s order dated 30.03.2020. He has made his submissions and contended that some mechanism has to be evolved for release of prisoners from jails, who are in dire threat of being infected and a classification and distinction in this regard may be made, and such be laid down by this Court. He however, contended that the impugned order of the Islamabad High Court is without jurisdiction and illegal.”


The court order said, “We are informed by the learned Advocate General, Punjab that no prisoner has so far been released from the prisons in Punjab on account of Coronavirus (COVID-19), rather the Inspector General, Prisons Punjab has made internal arrangements, where he has ensured that the policy of distancing, as announced by the Government, is followed and in this regard shifting of prisoners have been made and some have been put under quarantine and that the accommodation of the prisoners in Punjab is not so alarming, where the arrangement for securing the health of prisoners could not be maintained. Be that as it may, the learned Advocate General, however, states that some policy in this regard may be devised and appropriate order by this Court may be passed.”


Advocate General Sindh Salman Talibuddin stated that 519 prisoners have been released from the prisons in the Province of Sindh and such orders of release was/were passed by a Judicial Magistrate along with the list of prisoners and as stated by the learned AG, the order of the release was authorized by the Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court, in his instructions.


Advocate General, KP stated that no prisoner has been released on account of Coronavirus (COVID-19) from prisons in KP and similar statement is also made by the learned A.G. Balochistan. I.G, Prisons, Gilgit-Baltistan (GB), who is accompanied with the IG Police, GB, also made a similar statement that no prisoner from prisons in GB has so far been released on account of Coronavirus (COVID-19).


The court order said that in the circumstances, we direct the Inspectors General, Prison, all over Pakistan, to submit their respective reports regarding the population of prisoners in their respective prison and the actual capacity of the prisons and also point out the categories of prisoners who are under trial or convicted and separate list of prisoners, as has been noted in the recommendations of the Attorney General for Pakistan and also the vulnerable prisoners, as have been pointed out by the learned President of the SCBAP, i.e., the women prisoners and elderly prisoners, above the age of 60 years before the next date of hearing.


It added that so far as the question about the legality of the orders passed by the Islamabad High Court and the direction issued by the Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court and the subsequent orders passed by the District & Sessions Judges and Magistrates, is concerned, arguments on this aspect of the matter will be heard by this Court on the next date of hearing. In the meanwhile, we expect that the lawyers, who are interested in assisting this Court, besides the learned amicus curiae, may file their written synopsis and such be done well before the next date of hearing.