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Ombudsman’s fate linked to court order

Lahore

July 3, 2020

LAHORE:A division bench of the Lahore High Court on Thursday linked the fate of former bureaucrat Major (r) Azam Suleman as Punjab Ombudsman to the final outcome of a petition challenging his appointment.

Bench comprising Chief Justice Muhammad Qasim Khan and Justice Asim Hafeez issued this order on the petition moved by Advocate Zaheer Abbas. The court further ruled that if the notification regarding appointment of Azam Suleman was set aside, the government officials involved in it would bear the expenses incurred on the whole process. The court also summoned summary, notification and details of Suleman’s pre-mature retirement as secretary interior.

The petitioner-lawyer pleaded that under Section 3 of The Punjab office of the Ombudsman Act 1997, a person qualified to be the judge of a high court, was eligible for ombudsman post but later it was amended and the words" a person of known integrity may also be appointed" were added. He said a person who had clear sympathies with the government could not redress people’s grievances. The lawyer argued that the government could appoint any blue-eyed officer declaring him a person of known integrity. He alleged that the newly-appointed ombudsman had sympathies towards the government.

He argued that the impugned appointment had been made without a mandatory consultation with the chief justice of the high court. An additional advocate general opposed the maintainability of the petition and said the petitioner was not an aggrieved party to the appointment.

Justice Hafeez asked the petitioner as if he challenged the appointment or the law. The law officer, however, said the court had to decide locus standi of the petitioner even if he had challenged the law only. He said the petition questioned the amendment to the law after a period of 17 years.

However, Chief Justice Khan brushed aside this argument and observed that a law could be assailed even after 1700 years. “What is needed to be seen is the preamble of the law,” said the CJ. The court would minutely examine the law, he added.

The CJ remarked that it seemed Suleman was a blue-eyed of big guns. Everything was pre-planned for his appointment, CJ added. The CJ observed that there had been an increase in petitions relating to matters falling under the domain of the ombudsman, which reflected that people did not trust the office and preferred moving the high court for the redress of their grievances. Chief Justice Khan also questioned the eligibility of a retired government servant to issue orders to session’s judges as ombudsman and that too without appropriate knowledge of law.

“My peon also meets criteria of being a person of known integrity. Can he become ombudsman as well?” the chief justice asked the law officer. Assisting the bench as amicus curiae, Advocate Awais Khalid said a person with experience relevant to the objectives of the office of the ombudsman should be the eligible candidate. The bench adjourned further hearing until 15th July and directed the government’s lawyer to present complete record of the appointment of Azam Suleman as ombudsman.