Pandemic and justice

Courts to remain partially functional

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The apex court on Tuesday said that since no European country has seen any of its courts shutting down due to cronoravirus epidemic, the Pakistani courts too shall continue to deliver justice by performing their constitutional duties and functions. The courts however shall ensure that precautionary measures, screening of lawyers and litigants at entry points and placement of hand sanitizers and wash basins at the courts’ premises, are in place. At the same time, number of benches has been reduced given that only essential staff has been retained, allowing the employees over 50 and female staff to work from home. Unless extremely necessary no citizen shall be encouraged to visit the court during these days.

The decision has been welcomed by the bars’s representatives including Pakistan Bar Council vice chairman and the Supreme Court Bar Association president. The spirit of the decision must be appreciated and it is hoped that litigants shall know the difference between urgent and important and shall approach the courts only under extreme circumstances.

Separately, following up on its earlier decision, the Islamabad High Court granted bail to 408 under-trial prisoners. These prisoners were facing cases relating to narcotics and other crimes. Earlier the Adiala jail administration informed the court of jail premises being overcrowded as 5, 000 inmates were crammed in the jail that has a capacity to accommodate only 2,174 inmates. The district administration having reviewed record of accused UTPs had released 300 of them.

Going forward the courts must consider the parole for those prisoners who have spent substantial part of their jail terms and have shown good conduct during their time in prison as well as those who are elderly and more at risk of catching the infection. These are not ordinary times and as the IHC CJ has noted that prisoners too have a right to life and they should not be left in the way of harm for their crimes. At the same time, the authorities should ensure that no UTP or other prisoner is let out who has the potential to harm the society in any way. Murderers, child offenders, those charged with throwing acid on women or beating them should in particular be shown no mercy. Since we know that substantial number of prisoners shall continue to stay in jails, the authorities must ensure that inside of jails are kept in neat and clean condition and inmates are sentitised about maintaining social distance and keeping themselves clean.