Pakistan court terms overcrowding in jails as ‘unconstitutional’, empowers inmates to sue government

A view of the Islamabad High Court.

A view of the Islamabad High Court.  

Islamabad High Court ordered the federal government and Islamabad’s commissioner for observance of provisions in jail manual as well as in the international conventions and treaties related to the well-being of inmates.

A Pakistani high court has termed overcrowding in jails as “unconstitutional” and ruled that a prisoner can sue the government and prison authorities for inhuman treatment during imprisonment.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC), issuing its verdict on the petitions of Rawalpindi’s Adiala jail inmates, ordered the federal government and Islamabad’s commissioner for observance of provisions in jail manual as well as in the international conventions and treaties related to the well-being of inmates, Dawn news reported

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, in the 38-page verdict, observed that the “intolerable and shockingly inhuman and degrading treatment highlighted in the proceedings in hand meets the threshold of the hypothetical illustration in the above judgment.

“It is, therefore, obvious that the incarcerated prisoners, subjected to the unimaginable degrading and inhuman treatment highlighted in these proceedings, may have become entitled to seek damages against the prison authorities and the state”.


Most of the victims of the deteriorating criminal justice system are those who belong to economically and socially marginalised sections of the society. They do not have the means to access the courts nor has the state fulfilled its constitutional obligation in ensuring that each citizen receives inexpensive and expeditious justice mandated under the Constitution, the Chief Justice said.

The inmates had claimed they could not access the courts fearing punishment by the prison authorities for attempting to draw their attention towards their plight, the report said.

A commission constituted by the court to inquire into the prisoners’ miseries disclosed that the overall prison population at the time of filing of the report was around 74,000 while the authorised capacity was 55,634, the report said.

Out of 73,721 prisoners across the country, more than 60% (i.e. 44,847) have not been convicted by any court and a large number of them are suffering from serious illnesses such as HIV, tuberculosis, hepatitis and mental diseases, the commission said in the report, adding that jails lack proper medical facilities, doctors and paramedical staff.

It said the toilets lacked sanitation and the prisoners may have to “wait for hours” for their turn because of overcrowding while the privileged managed to exploit the system by getting themselves admitted to a hospital even when not in need.

According to the decision, the worst victims of what appears to be a dysfunctional criminal justice system are the pre-trial or under-trial incarcerated persons who are presumed to be innocent but, due to several factors, are treated as condemned prisoners.

Subsequently, the court declared that “overcrowding of prisons, failure to segregate prisoners in accordance with the provisions of the Jail Manual, inhuman and degrading treatment, denial of prompt and timely health assistance, denial of access to proper legal advice and courts, is unconstitutional”.

It directed the federal government “to take immediate steps to ensure that prisoners incarcerated in the prisons across Pakistan are dealt with and treated in conformity with the obligations of the State of Pakistan pursuant to ratification of the conventions”, the report added.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 6:12:28 PM |

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