ISLAMABAD             -     The Supreme Court of Pakistan on Monday stopped High Courts from passing any order regarding the release of under-trial prisoners (UTPs) amid deadly COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

A five-member larger bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Mainkhel, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin Ahmed heard the Criminal Petition No. 299 of 2020 Raja Muhammad Nadeem vs The State against the March 20 order passed by the Islamabad High Court Islamabad in Cr. Misc No.214/2020.

During the course of proceedings, the Attorney General for Pakistan, President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, President of the Peshawar High Court Bar Association and Vice Chairman of Pakistan Bar Council appeared before the court. 

The court issued notices to Niaz Ullah Khan Niazi, Advocate General, Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), Tariq Mehmood Khokhar, Additional Attorney General, Amer Ali Ahmed, Chief Commissioner, ICT, Hamza Shafqat, Deputy Commissioner, ICT, Waqar-ud-Din Syyid, Deputy Inspector General of Police, ICT, Secretary Health, ICT, Inspector General (Prisons), ICT, Home Secretaries of all the Provinces as well as the remaining Advocate Generals so also the Prosecutor Generals of the Provinces, namely, Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and KP, Inspector General of Police, Gilgit-Baltistan and Prosecutor Generals NAB and ANF.

The court also appointed Advocate Sheikh Zameer Hussain as amicus curiae to assist the Court. The court ordered that, “No further order shall be passed by any of the High Courts and by any of the Provincial Governments/ICT/Gilgit-Baltistan of releasing the prisoners from the jails. If any order has been passed regarding release of the prisoners and not given effect or implemented till now, the same shall not be acted upon until further orders of this Court.”

The chief Justice said, “It’s the power game but it should not be that authorities should exercise powers beyond their limits. We have to maintain the rule of law in the country.” The additional attorney general said that the high courts were giving different rulings regarding the release of prisoners. He asked the apex court to decide the matter. The Chief Justice questioned how the high courts could have ordered the release of under-trial prisoners.

He said that coronavirus was a grave matter and asked under what pretence did the IHC issue the directives for releasing the prisoners? He asked how a high court could take suo motu in this regard.

He said those involved in petty crimes should be released, but the IHC had ordered for the release of all prisoners except those charged with terrorism.

He said that it could not happen that people start making decisions which were not within their jurisdiction during a crisis. He said that those prisoners who had two to three months left in their sentences should be released. He said that everybody was aware of the current situation in the country. Therefore, the release of prisoners involved in serious crimes cannot be allowed because of a coronavirus scare, he added.

Later hearing of the case was adjourned till Wednesday.