Jurisdictions overstepped: Row between courts, ombudsperson deepens
LAHORE / ISLAMABAD: The federal ombudsperson against workplace harassment of women has contended before the Supreme Court that the superior courts have no legal jurisdiction to intervene in matters of the ombudsman’s office.
The tussle between the judiciary and Yasmin Abbasi took a new turn on Tuesday as the apex court resumed the hearing of a suo motu case against her while the Lahore High Court filed a misconduct complaint against her to the Supreme Judicial Council (SJC).
The controversy began when the Federal Ombudsperson for Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace issued an arrest warrant against a senior judge of the LHC. Chief Justice of Pakistan Anwar Zaheer Jamali took notice of the ombudsperson’s actions on May 11 and suspended the warrants while summoning her and the Attorney General for Pakistan.
When the bench resumed the hearing on Tuesday, Yasmin said under Section 18 of the Federal Ombudsman Institutional Reforms Act of 2013, there was a bar of jurisdiction on the constitutional courts on interference in the matters pending before the federal ombudsman office.
She also contended the decisions of her office could only be challenged before the president’s office.
Yasmin argued the LHC had been time and again granting interim relief to male lawyers despite several cases of harassment against them pending adjudication before her. The ombudsperson has already filed a petition in the top court, challenging the jurisdictions of courts on matters related to her office.
She added the LHC illegally suspended her judgment on January 11 while exercising its powers beyond its jurisdiction.
She argued the suo motu case could not be decided without first hearing her petition against the high court’s order. Yasmin also requested the bench to give her time for engaging a counsel.
Later, the court clubbed her earlier petition with the suo motu case and adjourned the hearing till the second week of June.
After the hearing, the federal ombudsperson said she would not file a written reply along with the preliminary objections. “I firmly hold the view as ombudsperson that the orders of the learned single judge were illegal and void besides being contemptuous and also against the code of conduct to be followed by a judge,” she said.
Yasmin added she had tried her best to avoid this unpleasant situation but the LHC judge left no choice with her except to invoke her contempt power.
Reference to SJC
Meanwhile, the Lahore High Court has sent a reference of misconduct against Yasmin to the SJC, seeking her removal from office.
Justice Mansoor Ali Shah passed the detailed judgment in the contempt of court proceedings initiated against her.
“The insubordinate and recalcitrant conduct of the federal ombudsman is unbecoming and offends the honour and prestige of the constitutional court,” the judgment stated.
Section 5 of the relevant law reads: “An ombudsman may be removed from office through the SJC on the grounds of being incapable of properly performing duties of his office by reason of physical or mental incapacity or found to have been guilty of misconduct.”
The judge directed the LHC registrar to place a copy of his verdict before the SJC, so that it may be treated as a reference against the federal ombudsperson for her removal.