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Protection against harassment of women at workplace: LHC ruling

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court has ruled that the jurisdiction of the Federal Ombudsperson for “Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace” is not limited to the federal capital territory as it is competent to hear complaints related to trans-provincial organizations, institutions, employers and workplaces.

The ruling has been given by a division bench comprising Justice Ayesha A. Malik and Justice Muzamil Akhtar Shabbir on petitions filed by some officers of a private bank challenging jurisdiction of the federal ombudsperson to hear a complaint filed by a female employee against them on charges of sexual harassment.

The counsel of the petitioners argued that the federal ombudsman did not have jurisdiction in the matter and despite various stay orders from the high court then Ombudsperson Yasmin Abbasi proceeded with the matter having no regard of the orders.

The counsel argued that the provincial ombudsman had the jurisdiction in the matter in light of a previous judgement by the high court on the issue of the jurisdiction of the federal ombudsperson.

On behalf of the federal government, Deputy Attorney General Nasar Ahmad submitted before the bench that the federal ombudsman had jurisdiction to entertain all complaints having a federal character including complaints of trans-provincial organizations.

He explained that the provincial ombudsman could not exercise jurisdiction over a federal organization or its officers as they transcend the provincial boundaries and could be transferred out of the province at any time rendering the claim before the provincial ombudsman as redundant.

Representing the Punjab government, Additional Advocate Generals Samia Khalid and Anwaar Hussain contended that jurisdiction vested with the provincial as well as the federal ombudsman. They said the complainant had a choice of forum based on convenience as well as cause of action.

The bench allowed the petitions to the extent of violation of stay orders by the federal ombudsperson and set aside its decisions in the matter. However, the bench did not agree with the arguments of the petitioners against the jurisdiction of the federal ombudsperson.

“Under the circumstances, we hold that if the employer or organization and its workplace falls strictly within the territorial boundaries of the Provincial Ombudsman, then jurisdiction vests with the Provincial Ombudsman and where the employer or organization transcends provincial boundaries such as in this case then jurisdiction vests with the Federal Ombudsman,” rules the division bench in its verdict.

The verdict further said that the complaint moved by the female employee of the bank shall be treated as pending before the federal ombudsman who shall decide the same in accordance with law, expeditiously, after hearing all necessary parties.

The bench also directed all the parties to appear before the federal ombudsman on Oct 4 so as to proceed with the compliant on its workplace: LHC ruling on jurisdiction of federal ombudsperson