Advocate Mehmood Pracha, representing the accused in the north-east Delhi riots, will keep posession of the computer and has been asked not to tamper with it.
A court in New Delhi on Saturday appointed a Local Commissioner (LC) and directed the police to coordinate with him a visit to advocate Mehmood Pracha’s office to seal his computer in a case of alleged tutoring of a witness in connection with the north-east Delhi riots.
The sessions court, which stayed till the next date of hearing, April 28, the magistrate court’s order directing a search warrant against Mr. Pracha to be executed, gave the directions after Special Public Prosecutor Amit Prasad did not object to Mr. Pracha’s proposal to appoint an LC.
Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana directed the Investigating Officer (IO) to go to Mr. Pracha’s office on Saturday and seize and seal the computer. It directed that the entire procedure be videographed in the presence of advocate Avneet Kaur who was appointed as the Local Commissioner.
The court, however, added that the computer will remain in Mr. Pracha’s custody and directed him not to tamper with it.
Mr. Pracha is representing some of the accused in cases related to the riots that took place in the national capital in February last year.
The court was hearing an appeal by Mr. Pracha against a magistrate court order directing the search warrant against him be executed in accordance with law, subject to the safeguards cited by experts.
The court put up the matter for further hearing on April 28.
During Saturday’s hearing, the IO and Mr. Pracha stated that the computer in question has not been tampered with so far by either of them.
Mr. Pracha’s office was raided by Delhi Police in connection with an FIR alleging that the advocate tutored a witness to initiate a false riots case.
He had moved the court seeking directions for retrieval of relevant information from his hard disk and raised concerns regarding the protection of his client’s data.
The magistrate court had said that the collection of evidence was intrinsic to investigation and the hands of the investigators cannot be tied to prevent them from collecting evidence.
It had further said that its intervention in the case was not proper and an accused cannot dictate the investigating officer (IO) about the mode and manner for collection of evidence in an investigation.
It also said expert opinion reflected that the “target data” can be stored/ copied/ retrieved in a pen drive/memory device without interference to other data stored in a hard disk.
It had cited expert opinion that if the hard disk was submitted in the forensic lab, the “target data” can be retrieved without any alteration to the metadata associated with “target data” and without creating any evidential vulnerabilities as the data will be retrieved forensically.
“Also, it will not affect the data stored in the hard disk relating to other clients of the applicant (Pracha).”
“Through the use of forensic tools, it is possible to safely segregate the “target data” from other data without any interference/alteration while keeping its authenticity and integrity and at the same time ensuring the admissibility of the “target data” without evidential vulnerabilities,” it had said.
The court had earlier stayed the operation of search warrants issued against Mr. Pracha.
Mr. Pracha had said that a soft copy of the materials was as good as a hard copy under the Information Technology Act.
He had further sought directions to the police for retrieval of data in the presence of a magistrate “They want to threaten my clients. That’s their purpose. In the main Delhi riots cases, they say soft copy is equal to hard copy and we would not give a hard copy of chargesheet. Here they don’t want a soft copy,” he had said.
During arguments, the advocate had also argued that it was clear from the video of the riots that his complaint was not false.
“Larger issues are involved. The entire judicial system is involved. I’m willing to sacrifice myself to save the Constitution. Please protect my clients, Constitution and Evidence Act,” he had added.
Delhi police had opposed Mr. Pracha’s plea, saying that seizing the original hard disk was essential as it ought to be sent to a forensic science laboratory for examination and that a mirror hard disk can be put back into his computer.
The police had claimed that it was searching for “incriminating documents” and metadata of the outbox of the official email id of his firm.