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January 19, 2020

Nawaz’s limited bail: Extension of release already taken place while Punjab govt mulling it

National

January 19, 2020

ISLAMABAD: While the Punjab government is engaged in evaluating deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s medical reports to take a decision on allowing him to further stay abroad for treatment, the extension of his release has automatically occurred because his limited bail expired twenty days back.

However, the Lahore High Court (LHC), while giving the ex-premier four-week bail, had ruled that he will return to Pakistan “when certified by [foreign] doctors that he has regained his health and is fit to return.” No such certification from the specialists has so far surfaced. The LHC did not make it mandatory for him to fly back on expiration of this period. Its order is time-bound but at the same time open-ended, in the sense of being subject to change in his foreign stay in view of his health condition.

In the LHC-approved undertaking, Nawaz Sharif had assured that he would return within four weeks. The order said that he is granted one-time permission to travel abroad as interim arrangement for four weeks and will return when certified by doctors that he has regained his health and is fit to return back to Pakistan.

Shahbaz Sharif undertook to provide and send the periodical medical report of the doctor duly notarised by the Pakistan embassy to the registrar of this court. He vowed that if at any stage, the federal government has credible information that Nawaz Sharif is living abroad despite his fitness to travel, a representative from the Pakistan embassy would have a right to meet with his physicians to verify or confirm about his health.

On October 29, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) granted eight weeks’ bail to Nawaz Sharif on medical grounds with the direction that the Punjab government exercise its powers to increase the period of his release, if required, and that there is no need to approach it for the purpose. This bail period ended on Dec 29. The extension of the release that has taken place is for unspecified period as the provincial administration has not asked Nawaz Sharif, who is being treated in Britain, to come back till a certain time. It is only scrutinising the medical reports, asserting they are incomplete with his personal physician Dr Adnan repudiating this claim. The ruling party leaders started disputing his health condition after a picture showing him sitting with his family members in a London restaurant went viral.

The IHC ruled that Nawaz Sharif can approach court for appropriate remedy in case of non-exercise of duty by the Punjab government or misuse of the discretion or its exercise in an arbitrary and whimsical manner in extending his release on health grounds.

It “noted with dismay” that despite its “observations” regarding different provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and Pakistan Prisons Rules (PPR), the Kot Lakhpat Jail, Lahore, Superintendent had “never initiated or referred” the health matter for the former prime minister’s release in spite of “his severe medical condition.”

The judgement said that since the jail superintendent was under Punjab government, the inspector general, prisons, could have made recommendations to it for Nawaz Sharif’s release on account of indisposition, and the government, on its own, could have suspended the sentence if it was believed that the circumstances so warranted.

According to the order, under Section 401 of the CrPC, the Punjab government/executive authority has ample power to suspend the sentence of any prisoner on any ground. It said that in case Nawaz Sharif’s health does not improve and he needs further medical attention, the Punjab government may, on its own, decide the issue regarding suspension of the sentence. Even otherwise, he may approach the provincial government under Section 401(2) CrPC.

This provision says whenever an application is made to the provincial government for the suspension or remission of a sentence, it may require the presiding judge of the court before or by which the conviction was had or confirmed to state his opinion as to whether the application should be granted or refused, together with his reason for such opinion and also to forward with the statement of such opinion a certified copy of the record of the trial or of such record thereof as exists.

The judgement said that the executive/jail authorities do have powers to release a prisoner who is critically ill under rules 143 and 164 of the PPR. Another aspect of the matter is that the PPR prescribes procedure for release of prisoners on bail suffering from disease.

The jail superintendent may recommend a prisoner for premature release who owing to old age, infirmity or illness is permanently incapacitated from the commission of further crime of the nature of that for which he has been convicted. The case will be submitted to the government through the inspector general. It shall be accompanied by the recommendations of the medical officer. The inspector general will, in all such cases, obtain the medical opinion of the medical board which will be convened by the Director of Health Services.