ISLAMABAD-The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Sunday directed to operate the high court benches and the district courts of the federal capital with bare minimum duty judges and staff due to the rising threat of the Coronavirus.

In this connection, the Registrar office of IHC issued a circular stating that in continuation of court circular dated March 16 regarding the measures adopted for social distancing and keeping in view the increasing number of Coronavirus patients and the expected future increase, the competent authority issued the following directions.

The circular stated, “The Courts, as well as the branches of the Islamabad High Court and the district courts, should operate with bare minimum duty judges, as well as staff on rotation.”

It added, “The district and Sessions judges are requested to issue the orders accordingly and take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of all concerned.”

The circular continued that it is preferred that the officers drive the vehicles themselves and all the female staff have been advised to stay at home while the directions regarding the IHC are being issued through another circular.

It further said that it is once again emphasised that all officers and staff give the matter the highest priority and personally ensure that social distancing and cleanliness measures continue over time.

Meanwhile, the IHC administration issued another circular saying that since there has been increase in the number of pandemic Coronavirus cases, which is likely to have devastating effects on human lives.

“Hence, it is mandatory to take all possible measures to contain the further spread of Coronavirus as a top priority,” added the circular. It maintained, “In order to prevent danger to human life, the competent authority has directed that the high court mosque will remain close till further orders.”

Similarly, in compliance with directions of the IHC, 230 prisoners were released from Central Prison, Rawalpindi while on Sunday, hearings were held by officials and Magistrate to scrutinise all other cases. Now, they would complete the work and the cases in which orders of IHC are required would be placed before Chief Justice of IHC Justice Athar Minallah on March 24.

Earlier, the single bench of IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC had conducted hearing of the case pertaining to release of 1,362 under trial prisoners who are accused of crimes with less than 10 years of imprisonment and incarcerated at Rawalpindi’s Adiala Jail in view of Coronavirus outbreak.

The IHC bench stated in its order that a report was sought from the Superintendent, Central Prison, Rawalpindi regarding the inmates whose cases are pending before courts under jurisdiction of this High Court. According to the report, the authorised occupancy of the Central Prison, Rawalpindi is 2,174 while the number of its present inmates is 5,001. The number of under trial prisoners whose cases are pending before the courts under the jurisdiction of this High Court is 1,362. Majority of the incarcerated under trial prisoners are alleged to have committed offences which fall within the ambit of the non- prohibitory clause. The august Supreme Court in the cases titled ‘Zafar Iqbal v. Muhammad Anwar and others’ [2009 SCMR 1488], has held that where offences fall within the non-prohibitory clause, grant of bail has to be considered favourably as a rule unless releasing the accused would jeopardize public safety.

“It also appears that several convicted prisoners are above the age of 55 years and some suffer from serious illnesses which cannot be treated while incarcerated. In appropriate cases, the provincial government is empowered under the Pakistan Prison Rules, 1978 read with section 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 to suspend the sentence. It is also a fact that the conditions in the overcrowded prisons are appalling and that medical facilities are also inadequate,” said the court order.

According to the order, it is noted that a prisoner has no option but to absolutely rely on the state and the prison authorities for his/her welfare and medical needs. Neglect on part of the state or prison authorities can lead to irreversible consequences, inter alia, causing physical and mental torture. The infliction of unnecessary pain, suffering and agony is neither in conformity with the constitutionally guaranteed rights nor the object of incarceration. The incarceration deprives a prisoner from his/her liberty and the freedom to be free and curtailment of liberty has limited consequences regarding some other rights. But by no stretch of the imagination is the right to life restricted or curtailed, rather a heavy burden lies on the state to safeguard this most valuable fundamental right because a prisoner does not have the freedom to make choices or decisions to regulate affairs of life.

Justice Athar added, “A prison outbreak is likely to present potentially deadly risk not only to its inmates but the general public as well. The appalling conditions and health facilities would definitely exacerbate such a crisis. The inmates of the prisons need to be cared for because they are absolutely dependant on the state and most of them cannot even afford to approach the courts. The federal government has, therefore, justifiably adopted the policy of reducing the population of the prisons in order to meet the challenges posed by the invisible enemy i.e. the coronavirus.”