The Delhi High Court Monday extended till August 31 all the interim orders, including bails, which were to expire on or after July 15, in cases before it and the district courts here so as to ensure safety of litigants, lawyers and under-trial prisoners during the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.
A special bench, headed by Chief Justice DN Patel, said it was extending the interim orders, including bails, till August 31 as the prisons were already overcrowded and if anyone prisoner returns to jail from outside, there was a risk he might bring the infection with him and it could spread among the other inmates.
The bench, also comprising Justices Siddharth Mridul and Talwant Singh, said, "These are unusual times calling for unusual measures. It is an unprecedented situation."
The high court said the interim bail orders were being extended "to protect everyone". "We want people to stay safe. We want your (prison authority) officials to be safe," the bench added.
The observations came after Delhi government standing counsel (criminal) Rahul Mehra expressed concerns with regard to extension of interim bails without hearing the prisoners.
Mehra said that initially the court had in March extended all interim orders till May 15 and thereafter, they were further extended to June 15 and the July 15, as people would not be able to approach courts due to the COVID pandemic.
However, now people are approaching the courts, including the high court, in a wide variety of matters and the matters were being listed and also being heard without much delay, and therefore, bail matters be decided on their individual merits.
The bench said it was extending the interim bails as it does not want any asymptomatic prisoner to return to jail and spread the infection there.
The high court said that when it held a 3-day testing camp for its staff, many of its officials who appeared to be hale and hearty were found to be COVID-19 positive and it does not want a similar situation in the jails.
The high court said that in view of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, it was further extending its directions passed on March 25, May 15 and June 15 till August 31 on the same terms and conditions and listed the matter for further hearing on August 24.
Mehra also told the court, during the hearing, that the prison authorities were considering the special parole granted to convicts, during COVID-19, as part of their sentence which was not permitted under the prison rules.
He said only furlough is allowed to be considered as part of sentence undergone.
Parole and furlough are the temporary release from jail of a prisoner. While the duration of parole is not deducted from period of sentence, the time spent on furlough is, as it is a reward given for good conduct.
The bench said prison authorities cannot allow parole to be considered as part of sentence undergone and only the court can take such a decision. It, however, said that this issue would be examined if any such case comes before it.
The high court, in its earlier orders in the matter, had made it clear that the interim orders were being extended, except where the Supreme Court may have passed any contrary orders in any such matter during this period.
Presently, the hearings in the high court and district courts are being done through video conferencing in urgent matters only due to the coronavirus pandemic.