The Lahore High Court has ruled that the jurisdiction of the Federal Ombudsperson for “Protection against Harassment of Women at Workplace” is not only limited to the federal capital territory and is also competent to hear complaints related to trans-provincial organisations, institutions, employers and workplaces, according to a report in the local media.
A division bench comprising Justice Ayesha A Malik and Justice Muzamil Akhtar Shabbir announced the ruling following petitions filed by some officers of a private bank who challenged the 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 the Ombudsperson Yasmin Abbasi proceeded with the matter having no regard of the orders. They argued that the provincial ombudsman had the jurisdiction in the matter in light of a previous judgement by the high court on the issue.
Deputy Attorney General Nasar Ahmad, on behalf of the federal government submitted, before the bench that the federal ombudsman had jurisdiction to entertain all complaints having a federal character including complaints of trans-provincial organisations. He explained that the provincial ombudsman could not exercise jurisdiction over a federal organisation or its officers as they transcend the provincial boundaries.
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 accepted the petitions to the extent of violation of stay orders. However, the bench did not agree with the arguments of the petitioners against the jurisdiction of the federal ombudsperson.
It ruled that if the workplace falls strictly within the territorial boundaries of the Provincial Ombudsman, then jurisdiction vests with the Provincial Ombudsman and where the employer or organisation transcends provincial boundaries then jurisdiction vests with the Federal Ombudsman.
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.