ISLAMABAD    -  The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Thursday accepted a petition of Muhstaq Ahmad Sukhera setting aside the federal government’s notification regarding his removal as Federal Tax Ombudsman (FTO).

A single bench of IHC comprising Chief Justice of IHC Justice Athar Minallah announced the decision in the petition of Mushtaq Sukhera challenging his removal from the post of FTO.

The court noted in its verdict, “For what has been discussed above, this petition is allowed and consequently the impugned notification, dated 12-06-2019, is hereby set aside. The impugned notification was illegal and definitely issued in violation of the scheme of the Constitution, the Ordinance of 2000 read with the Act of 2013.”

The IHC bench added, “Before parting, this Court cannot ignore the lack of care exercised by the Ministry of Law and Justice in initiating the summary dated 17-05-2019. The learned Attorney General could not give a plausible explanation regarding a different stance taken by the Ministry of Law and Justice in the case of the recently appointed Ombudsman under the Insurance Ordinance of 2000. The Ministry of Law and Justice was expected to have taken extraordinary care while initiating the summary because what had been proposed had serious consequences for an essential salient feature of the Constitution i.e parliamentary form of government and democracy, besides the independence of a statutory adjudicatory public office.”

Moreover, the verdict said that the Ministry of Law and Justice was proposing a course of action based on interpretation of section 3(1) of the Ordinance of 2000 which was a drastic departure from the interpretation that had led to appointments made from time to time for almost two decades.

The Ministry, as well as the learned Attorney General, could not give a satisfactory answer regarding the fate of the orders passed and convictions handed down for contempt by successive Tax Ombudsmen since the promulgation of the Ordinance of 2000 almost two decades ago if the appointments were to be treated as void ab initio.

Taking extraordinary care and exercising extreme caution was inevitable because the impugned notification issued in view of the summary dated 17- 05-2019 has definitely undermined and jeopardized the legislative intent of ensuring the independence of the office of the Tax Ombudsman and the Ombudsmen appointed under the other relevant laws.

It maintained, “This Court expects that in future in such matters of public importance the Ministry of Law and Justice and other authorities would exercise extreme care and caution in order to avoid undermining the integrity and independence of adjudicatory public offices because it is better to err on the side of caution rather than committing an illegality amounting to violation of the scheme of the Constitution.”

During the last hearing, attorney general Anwar Masnoor had presented his arguments saying that Sukhera was not appointed as per rules of Federal Tax Ombudsman Ordinance 2000.

Sukhera moved the court through his counsel Zainab Janjua Advocate and cited President of Pakistan through Secretary to the President, Prime Minister through Principal Secretary and Secretary of Law and Justice as respondents.

In his petition, he assailed the notification dated June 12 whereby the President has withdrawn his notification of appointment against the post of FTO.

His counsel contended before the court that the appointment and removal of the FTO is governed under the Establishment of the office of Federal Tax Ombudsman Ordinance, 2000 and the Federal Ombudsman Institutional Reforms Act, 2013.

She referred to section 6(2) of the Ordinance of 2000 and section 5 of the Act of 2013 in support of her contention that once the FTO has been appointed and the later has taken oath of office, his removal can only be made through the Supreme Judicial Council.