LAHORE: As a preventive measure to avoid spread of coronavirus pandemic, Lahore High Court Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan on Thursday issued an order for hearing of bail petitions of under-trial prisoners and convicts of minor and non-prohibitory offences on a priority basis.

A directive issued to all district & sessions judges by Director General of District Judiciary Directorate Mushtaq Ahmad Ojla said the chief justice desired that bail applications (fresh or second as the case may be) of the prisoners/convicts be filed by the jail superintendents.

The beneficiary of the directive include under-trial prisoners of offences not falling within the prohibitory clause, carrying imprisonment of 10 years or above, under-trial women and juvenile prisoners, convicts with imprisonment of less than seven years and convict women.

The directive said the superintendents of the jails shall file the bail pleas of the prisoners undergoing sentence less than seven years directly to the sessions judges concerned who shall entrust the same to the trial judges concerned for appropriate orders.

However, the bail applications of prisoners undergoing the sentence for period of more than seven years up to life imprisonment and have served at least half of the sentence will be directly filed by the superintendents before the high court.

The extraordinary concession of bail will not be applicable to the under-trial and convicted prisoners of the offences under Anti-Terrorism Act 1997.

In case of acceptance of bail, it will be the discretion of the trial court to release the convict after obtaining bail bonds or on personal surety bonds. The trial courts had also been directed to decide these applications at the earliest.

The DPOs had been directed to ensure that the prisoners after the release must not mix up with public and to remain in complete isolation at their homes at least for two weeks.

The LHC further directed the jail superintendents to ensure that until the spread of Covid-19 came to an end, new entrants to the prisons were kept separately under medical observation at least for two weeks.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2020