ISLAMABAD: Chief Jus­tice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar on Tuesday questioned if Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was aware of his responsibility to apprehend Ishaq Dar, the former finance minister who has been declared absconder by an accountability court in a corruption reference, when they met in London last week.

Discussing the Citizen Concept that allows citizens to apprehend anyone who has absconded from the law, CJP Nisar said: “Was it not the obligation of the prime minister to apprehend him, when he met the accused [Ishaq Dar].”

The chief justice then observed the prime minister must not be aware about this provision when he met the person who had been absconding from the law. “Even the police do not know about this concept,” quipped defence counsel Salman Aslam Butt.

The observation came when the defence counsel informed a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court that doctors had advised his client in London not to travel for at least six weeks but his client was seeking a second opinion.

The CJP asked the counsel to inform his client that he should comply with the earlier orders by appearing in person before the court on May 8, the next date of hearing, even if he had to come in an ambulance.

The apex court observed if the former minister had apprehensions that he would be arrested the moment he returned, he could be granted protective bail.

The observation came at the hearing of the petition filed by Mohammad Nawazish Ali Pirzada who challenged the Lahore High Court verdict of allowing Mr Dar to contest the March 12 Senate elections. The petition stated the accused was a judicial absconder. On Dec 11, 2017 the accountability court had declared Ishaq Dar absconder in a corruption reference after he repeatedly failed to join the trial against him.

In his challenge, Mr Pirzada had objected to the election of the former minister arguing that he was not entitled to contest Senate polls under Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution. The entire system would be affected if the absconder was allowed to contest the elections, he contended.

In a rejoinder, the defence counsel pleaded before the court to dismiss the petition as not maintainable. He argued that 18th Amendment had repealed the amendment inserted through the Legal Framework Order (LFO) and then preserved through 17th Amendment in Article 63(1) of the Constitution according to which a person convicted of having absconded was declared disqualified to contest elections.

Transfer of prisoners

The same bench ordered the interior minister to revive the process of transfer of Pakistani prisoners languishing in different countries.

Additional Attorney General Nayyar Rizvi told the court that 3,564 prisoners were languishing in different countries. Of them 3,303 were in jails of those countries with which Pakistan had signed agreement on the transfer of offender, whereas 261 were in the countries with which the agreement had been concluded but not ratified, he explained.

The law officer apprised the court that the bilateral treaties for the transfer of Pakistani prisoners from abroad, which had been suspended earlier, were revived.

Among the 3,303 inmates, the additional attorney general said, the United Arab Emirates had the highest number of Pakistani prisoners. There were 423 Pakistanis languishing in the UK jails, 87 in Sri Lanka and 83 in Thailand. Similarly, there were a total of 261 Pakistani prisoners in the countries with which the agreement had been concluded but not ratified. Among them, 189 were in the jails of Iran, 69 in Turkey and three in Azerbaijan, the law officer added.

When CJP Nisar inquired about the current situation in China from where he had received several complaints, the AAG said negotiations on the matter were under way and expressed the hope that the same would soon be finalised.

The bench ordered the government to initiate the process of transferring of the prisoners from abroad and keep the court in the loop. The court also asked the government to give a time frame to complete the process.

Jail reforms

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ordered all district and sessions judges to inspect on an emergency basis all prisons in their jurisdiction on the touchstone of the criteria developed by the federal ombudsman.

The apex court directed the sessions judges to submit their respective reports about the condition in jails within two weeks after inspection.

Additional Advocate General of Punjab Asma Hamid told the court that the Punjab government had significantly reduced the overcrowding of jails by 48 per cent from earlier 132 per cent, yet there were 50,304 inmates in 40 jails across the province. He admitted that the number was still 18,000 higher than the sanctioned strength as prescribed by the ombudsman in its report.

Of the 50,304 inmates, 985 were women, the law officer said, adding that 614 of them were facing trial in different courts.

The ombudsman report had suggested the Supreme Court to order development of prisons in every district headquarters by the provincial governments as well as in Islamabad by the federal government. It also suggested the apex court that the drug users and mentally ill prisoners be kept in drug clinics outside the jail premises and those mentally retarded be kept at their homes so that they could be provided with best available medical treatment.

The report said the kith and kin/family members of the prisoners, particularly women and children, should have the right to visit them once a week on pre-notified days. The provincial governments should ensure that the visitors’ rooms have sufficient chairs, drinking water and toilet facilities.

About production of under trial prisoners in courts, the report said the provincial governments should review and enhance facilities for transportation and escorting of prisoners to the court premises so that they were produced on every date of hearing in courts without fail.

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2018