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February 27, 2020

Punjab govt’s refusal to extend Nawaz’s release justiciable


February 27, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Punjab government’s decision not to extend ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s release on medical grounds is “justiciable”.

“It is beyond doubt that the provincial administration’s determination will be challenged in the Islamabad High Court (IHC),” a senior member of the Sharifs’ legal team told The News on condition of anonymity.

This, he said, was the principal legal recourse available to the aggrieved party. “However, other options will also be deliberated upon by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in consultation with the Sharif duo.”

The lawyer said that neither the Sharifs’ legal, medical aides nor anyone else in the PML-N has been furnished the Punjab government’s decision. “The legal opinion on such order will be available only after it will be received, and till that time Nawaz Sharif will remain abroad.”

He said that the issue will undoubtedly be settled by a court of law as the Punjab government has been in no mood to extend Nawaz Sharif’s release for medical treatment in Britain. The lawyer pointed out that the provincial government’s determination was justiciable in the light of the October 29, 2019 IHC judgment that granted eight-week bail to Nawaz Sharif.

It had ruled that the former prime minister 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 bail on health grounds.

While granting bail, the IHC gave 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 (IHC) for the purpose.

The order “noted with dismay” that despite the IHC “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” [to the Punjab government] the health matter for Nawaz Sharif’s release in spite of “his severe medical condition.”

The judgment 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.

Section 401(2) 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.

The judgment 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.

Meanwhile, the Lahore High Court (IHC) that had bailed out Nawaz Sharif for eight weeks for medical treatment had ruled that the ex-premier will come back to Pakistan “when certified by doctors that he has regained his health and is fit to return.” In the LHC-approved undertaking given by Nawaz Sharif, he 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 to Pakistan.

Shahbaz Sharif had undertaken to provide and send the periodical medical report of the doctor duly notarised by the Pakistan High Commission, London to the registrar of the LHC. 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 would have a right to meet his physicians to verify or confirm his health.