Justice Seth, the judge who sentenced a dictator
Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth, who passed away from Covid Thursday, may have been seen as flawed because of his emotions, but when he erred, he erred on the side of the constitution and the rights of the people.
Some lawyers are sharing this improvised couplet (written by Waseem Altaf) in his memory:
Waqar ki ek din ki zindagi,
Nisar ki sau saala zindagi se behtar he.
Justice Seth was considered a judge of independent mind and character. Some people even perceived him as extreme in this sense. Some people in government positions who are expressing their sadness over his passing, ironically were placed in great difficulty on Justice Seth’s account.
Here are a few of the major cases that distinguished his legal career and whose decisions were deemed far-reaching.
Justice Seth on military courts
The Supreme Court deemed legal the 23rd constitutional amendment allowing for the formation of army or military-run courts to try alleged terrorists. Fifty were given the death sentence out of 74 convictions. In 2017 Justice Seth said these sentences were not legal because the basic rights in a trial of these prisoners had been violated. They had not been given proper representation and their trials had been speeded through even though the accusations were extremely serious.
KP internment centres and missing people
In 2019 the issue of internment centres in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa came up. The police did not know the location of the people kept here and their families did not know either. KP had announced the In Aid of Civil Powers ordinance to give these enforced disappearances legal cover. Justice Seth said this was not legal either and that all these people should be kept with the police. In appeal, however, the Supreme Court sided with the government and suspended this judgement.
Musharraf treason case and death sentence
Justice Seth’s most important decision and perhaps most famous was the one he made in the General Pervez Musharraf treason case. He was part of the special bench that sentenced Musharraf to death under Article 6 of the Constitution.
Justice Seth was criticised for his comments on how Musharraf’s body should be treated.
This was the first time a dictator had been sentenced in Pakistan.
Elevation to Supreme Court
Justice Seth felt that he had fallen out of favour with the judicial hierarchy. In a 2020 petition, he said he was not elevated to the Supreme Court despite a legitimate expectation and that judges junior to him had been favoured. With Justice Faisal Arab’s retirement Nov 4, he considered himself to be the next in line but he passed away before a hearing into this case.