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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Zardari gives assent to softer bail law

By Syed Irfan Raza

ISLAMABAD, April 18: President Asif Ali Zardari, who himself was a victim of certain clauses of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and could not get bail during eight years of imprisonment, signed on Monday a bill amending the CrPC to provide an opportunity to under-trial prisoners and convicts to seek bail in cases which were not disposed of within a prescribed timelimit.

Speaking on the occasion, the president called upon women parliamentarians to propose further amendments to the law to entitle a woman to bail even in a police station.

"Following the conversion of the bill into law, no person will be kept in jail indefinitely due to either delay in commencement of the trial or disposal of their appeals," said presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar.

"The president signed the Criminal Procedure Code (Amendment) Bill to make it a law that seeks to grant statutory bail both to undertrial prisoners and convicts whose trials and appeals have not been disposed of within a prescribed timelimit," he said. The bill was signed at a ceremony at the presidency.

"Now an under-trial prisoner shall be entitled to bail if he has been charged with any offence not punishable with death and has been detained for one year. In case of an offence punishable with death the accused shall be liable to statutory bail if the trial has not been concluded in two years," the spokesman said.

Convicts whose appeals are pending will also be entitled to statutory bail.

"A convict will be entitled to statutory bail if the term of imprisonment did not exceed three years and the appeal has not been decided within six months of conviction," he said.

In case of imprisonment exceeding three years but less than seven years the convict will be entitled to statutory bail if the appeal remained undecided even one year after conviction.

He said that a convict sentenced to life imprisonment or imprisonment of more than seven years would be entitled to bail if his appeal remained undecided even two years after conviction.

The law also envisages special concessions for undertrial women prisoners. The time specified for under-trial women prisoners for eligibility to statutory bail is half of the time for male convicts.

A woman under-trial prisoner will thus be entitled to statutory bail if she is accused of an offence not punishable with death and has been detained for over six months.In case of an offence punishable with death the prison shall be liable to statutory bail if the trial has not been concluded in one year instead of two years as in the case of male under-trial prisoners.

Legal experts said the law might also benefit under-trial terrorists and thus courts would have to be vigilant.

"On the one hand the government and higher judiciary are striving hard to make laws more strict and harder for the terrorists so that they cannot get bail in their cases, on the other the government itself making laws softer for seeking bail," Justice (retd) Tariq Mehmood said.

He said such a provision had also been included in the CrPC in the past but it was withdrawn by the government of Nawaz Sharif.

But the presidential spokesman said the concession would not benefit a previously convicted offender for an offence punishable with death or life imprisonment or to a person who in the opinion of the trial or appellate court is a hardened, desperate or dangerous criminal or is accused of an act of terrorism punishable with death or life imprisonment.

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