The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday dismissed a request of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) to postpone the proceedings on the pending cases before the top court in the wake of COVID-19. It is worth noting that Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed on last Thursday chaired a meeting of National Judicial Policy Making Committee (NJPMC) where it was decided against shutting countrywide courts despite rising number of coronavirus cases.
CJP should shut down courts for all but urgent cases (with only petitioners-in-person or lawyers arguing allowed to appear) & reevaluate unfolding situation in 2 weeks. Given our court infrastructure physical distancing won't work otherwise. We can work during the summer instead
— Babar Sattar (@Babar_Sattar) March 15, 2020
Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed remarked that the State institutions couldn’t be closed in such a situation. The courts were operating even in Europe which had been badly hit by the coronavirus, he added.
As the hearing commenced, SCBA President Syed Qalb-e-Hassan appeared before the court and requested the CJP to delay the proceedings on pending cases due to the current situation in the country. The CJP said that judges should be present symbolically, adding that this important institution couldn’t be closed in such a condition. The court subsequently turned down the request of SCBA.
Since Coronavirus is spreading fast across the world, experts believe that the courts in Pakistan must have been shut-down for some time now. The gathering of more than five persons in any setting is not only dangerous for the participants rather it has also potential to infect a larger number of people if anyone of them has positive Coronavirus.
Pakistani superior judiciary’s decision to keep the Courts working during the #coronavirus crisis doesn’t make sense. Pakistan needs to implement social distancing & this isn’t the time to show that the judiciary is working hard. With due respect, decision needs to be revisited!
— Taimur Malik (@taimur_malik) March 19, 2020
Coronavirus appears to be single most terrifying challenge the world is deal with. According to latest media reports, more than 10,046 people have died and more than 245,805 have been infected by COVID-19 as the disease spreads rapidly to new territories. The epicenter of the outbreak has now shifted to Europe, which is recording a rapid rise in new cases every day.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Pakistan has risen to 992 as of Wednesday after more cases were reported in Sindh. The number of confirmed cases in Sindh rose to 410. In Punjab 296, Balochistan 110, and KPK 78 cases have been confirmed.
The apex court judge Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan was appointed as the focal person to coordinate with the lower courts keeping in view the developing situation. “The high courts will also appoint their focal persons,” the decision said adding that all high courts would be bound to follow the SOPs devised to deal with the virus.
The chief justice said that they would adopt all measures to prevent judicial staff and applicants from coming into contact with the virus at the courts’ premises. “We have conveyed directives to high courts to avoid crowds during the proceedings,” he said.
I am unable to understand why the #courts, in Pakistan, have not announced a reduction in litigation schedule. Urgent cases should be heard. But, till we have a better grip on #Coronavirus, there is no reason to require lawyers/litigants to continue attending crowded courtrooms.
— Saad Rasool (@SaadRasooll) March 15, 2020
The meeting also decided to conduct screening of relatives of inmates coming for court proceedings while directives were also issued to adopt preventive measures for inmates brought to the courts.
The meeting also decided to lower the burden of work as the courts have been directed to avoid issuing verdicts in the absence of one of the parties in a case. Moreover, a rotation policy should be adopted for the judicial staff of the lower judiciary.
Briefing the meeting over measures taken by the government to prevent virus outbreak, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Health Dr Zafar Mirza said that they would soon provide testing kits imported from abroad for screening at the courts.
“Free tests will be conducted at the government hospitals to screen virus,” he said adding that a hospital would also be designated in Chak Shahzad Islamabad to deal the suspected coronavirus patients.
Interestingly, amidst fear and anguish, the scientists at National University of Science and Technology (NUST) Attaur Rahman School of Applied Biosciences (ASAB) have successfully established Molecular Diagnostic Assays for the detection of novel coronavirus, in collaboration with Wuhan Institute of Virology China, DZIF Germany, Columbia University USA and Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP) Rawalpindi. These testing kits will cost one-fourth of the current price for the kits used for detecting the COVID-19.