LHC limits challenges to public office appointments.

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RAWALPINDI: The Lahore High Court, Rawalpindi bench, has ruled that appointments of public office holders could not be challenged through a writ of quo warranto as a matter of routine; it must be specific and should be filed within a certain time frame.

LHC Justice Jawad Hassan gave this ruling while dismissing the petition filed against the appointment of Mohammad Akram, Member, Appellate Tribunal Inland Revenue (ATIR).

Mr Akram was appointed as a member judicial ATIR on April 26, 2019, by the federal government after he qualified the Federal Public Service Commission examination. He was appointed under Section 130(3) of the Income Tax Ordinance.

The court noted that the office of the member judicial ATIR is, by all intents and purposes, a public office. The office was created by the state and the statute, and the duties attached to it are of a public nature.

In the judgement, the court settled some law points, limiting the scope of the writ of quo warranto.

Quo warranto is a Latin term for โ€œby what warrantโ€ or authority. A writ of quo warranto is a common law remedy used to challenge a personโ€™s right to hold a public or corporate office.

In the detailed judgement, Justice Hassan narrowed down the use of this petition, which had been misused in the past for challenging the appointments and post in public offices.

Justice Hassan noted that โ€œin the case, the petitioner challenged the appointment of the senior judicial member of ATIR, who had been working for four years deciding numerous casesโ€.

The judge held that there must be a time frame for such petition, criteria for interfering in such petition, and a definition of public office and given reasons for admitting such petitions.

Discussing the petition, the court noted that the petitioner had prayed for disqualification of Mr Akram over registration of and FIR against him by his paternal uncle in a property dispute. This dispute was amicably settled among the parties through compromise, leading to his acquittal.

The court further noted that Mr Akram was appointed as a judicial member of the ATIR via a notification issued under Section 130(3) of the Income Tax Ordinance, 2001, in 2019.

It is a settled law that granting relief in the nature of quo warranto falls within the discretionary power of the superior courts and this relief cannot be allowed as a matter of course. Rather, the conduct and the bona fides of the petitioner, the cause, and the object of filing such petition is also of considerable importance, which is to be examined, the court order said.

It added the Supreme Court had held in numerous judgements that the writ of quo warranto can only be issued in exceptional cases and the relief should not be allowed as a matter of course, more so when the candidature of a candidate was duly scrutinised at the time of the scrutiny of his appointment to ascertain whether he was qualified in terms of the Constitution and the law.

Accordingly, the court is not required to go into the merits of the case and should summarily dismiss the petition on the basis of lack of bona fides and extraneous motives of the petitioner and on account of the petition being frivolous, the order states.

โ€œThis court firmly believes that a writ of โ€˜quo warrantoโ€™ should only be issued in exceptional cases and the relief should not be allowed in a casual manner, especially when a candidateโ€™s qualifications were thoroughly examined during his appointment which has never been challenged by the petitioner,โ€ said the order.

The court dismissed the petition as frivolous in nature.

Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2023

Click to Download the Judgment

2023LHC5587

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