No precautionary measures in place at lower courts against spread of the virus

Updated March 29, 2020

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PEOPLE coming to and leaving the courts.—White Star
PEOPLE coming to and leaving the courts.—White Star

KARACHI: While the city faces a lockdown to halt the spread of coronavirus, the judicial staff, lawyers and litigants remain exposed to the risks of getting infected due to lack of precautionary measures at the subordinate courts in the city.

The judicial officers, staff and lawyers complained that no steps had been put in place at dozens of courts located in the City Courts judicial complex, the judicial complex in Malir as well as the special courts and tribunals.

Speaking to Dawn on condition of anonymity, the judicial officers and employees said that the relevant provincial and local authorities had failed to implement crowd management to maintain social distancing, which was being advised by the health experts as the sole prevention to halt the spread of the deadly virus.

“No precautions are seen at the City Courts, as the conditions are the same,” a judicial officer told Dawn, seeking anonymity, as he sounded concerned about the judges, their staffers as well as the lawyers and the public.

Hundreds of people, including lawyers and litigants, daily visit City Courts

“Just one thing has happened that there is no rush of thousands of people, but still there are hundreds coming to the courts daily,” the officer added.

Another judicial officer termed the situation at the City Courts judicial complex as “unsatisfactory” and demanded that precautions be put in place immediately to save the lives of visitors.

While the Sindh government took the lead among provinces by declaring a lockdown to halt the coronavirus in the province, the Sindh High Court had also suspended routine judicial and administrative work at its principal seat and circuit benches and the lower courts, special courts and tribunals.

However, it was decided that the judicial officers would continue to hear only bail matters in criminal cases.

Karachi Bar Association president Munir Ahmed Malik also sounded concerned about the safety of the judicial officers, staffers, lawyers and the litigants at the City Courts — a judicial complex housing courts of East, West, South and Central districts — on M.A. Jinnah Road.

“There are no gadgets provided to check the body temperature of the visitors entering the City Courts judicial complex through its five gates, no sanitizers, masks and other facilities have been provided despite a request made to the provincial government,” said Mr Malik.

“Soon after the situation started aggravating, the Karachi Bar Association sent a letter to the health secretary asking him to provide the gadgets, sanitizers and masks,” he said.

However, he deplored that a reply from the health secretary in that regard was awaited, adding that they would send a reminder to the secretary’s office.

The bar association chief said that the situation was not different at the special courts and the tribunals.

He said the KBA had distributed around 10,000 masks and sanitizers to the visitors at the City Courts from its own resources.

No precautions for UTPs

While the law enforcement agencies continued to detain citizens found violating the ban on movement during the lockdown, Mr Malik said that the Karachi police high-ups had been asked to avoid registering FIRs against the violators and only impose fines on them so that they (violators) were not required to be produced before court.

“Some 40 to 50 such suspects are brought to the courts daily across the city, who are accompanied by an equal number of their relatives, who execute surety bonds for the suspects, besides the police officials and the lawyers.

“This also exposes them and others to the risks of getting infected with the deadly virus as neither the police take precautions nor such steps have been adopted at the courts,” the KBA chief added.

Lawyers appearing before the courts at the Malir judicial complex, the antiterrorism courts housed in the judicial complex inside the Central Jail Karachi and other special courts also complained about a severe lack of facilities for the prevention of the virus.

The stakeholders have called upon the provincial and local authorities concerned to pay heed to the issue in order to effectively protect the public against the virus.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2020