ISLAMABAD: A lawyer has sought permission from the top court to become a party in the hearing of the case regarding release of under-trial prisoners (UTPs) in view of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mirza Umar Asadullah, an advocate, stated in his application that he had been motivated to file the plea after reading a paragraph of April 1 Supreme Court order asking lawyers to assist the court in preparing a synopsis before the next date of hearing.

The apex court is seized with a petition moved by Syed Nayab Hassan Gardezi, an advocate, on behalf of Raja Muhammad Nadeen challenging the Islamabad High Court’s March 20 order of granting bail to over 400 UTPs. The Supreme Court is to resume hearing in the case on Monday.

In a preliminary hearing on March 30, the Supreme Court had restrained all the high courts, as well as the federal and provincial governments, from passing any order or releasing UTPs before a decision on the matter.

At the last hearing on April 1, the apex court had observed it would determine the legality of March 20 Islamabad High Court (IHC) order as well as the March 26 instructions of the Chief Justice Sindh High Court (SHC) to release the under-trial prisoners (UTPs) from country’s overcrowded jails in the wake of the deadly corona outbreak.

In the fresh application, Mirza Umar Asadullah contended that he mainly practised on the criminal side before the Supreme Court and therefore his valuable rights were involved in different cases which were the subject matter of the case being heard by the apex court.

But on April 1, the Supreme Court was told that 519 prisoners had been released from the prisons in Sindh under the directives by a judicial magistrate along with the list of prisoners. The Advocate General of Sindh, Salman Talibuddin, had stated the release was authorised by the chief justice of the SHC through an instruction.

AG Sindh had also assured the apex court that he would provide a complete list of all 519 prisoners, their names, their prisons, whether they were under trial or convicted, detail of cases they were facing under what offences.

During the last hearing, the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Syed Qalbe Hassan ,had also furnished a report with the heading “What makes Pakistani prisoners more vulnerable through the Cornonavirus.”

The statistics had shown that out of 114 prisons in Pakistan, the recommended capacity to house prisons is 57,742, but presently these jails were overcrowded with 77,275 inmates. Of this, 25,456 prisoners are convicted while overwhelming majority constitutes UTPs to the tune of 48,008. The women prisoners who were living along with their children are 1,184 while 1,500 are elderly prisoners above the age of 60.

Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan had also proposed the release on personal surety bond of those accused who have been charged with offences under non-prohibitory clauses or under vagrancy laws or offences carrying less than three years’ sentence. But there must also be condition that this benefit must not be extended in cases involving abuse or violent acts against children and women.

Published in Dawn, April 4th, 2020