Federal govt yet to designate judges to try cybercrime cases
KARACHI: The fate of cybercrime cases being registered by the Federal Investigation Agency hangs in the balance, as the federal government is learnt to have been dragging its feet on designating judicial officers to take cognizance of the offences under the Prevention of Electronic Crime Act (PECA), 2016.
Under Section 44 of the PECA, the federal government in consultation with the chief justice of the respective high court has to designate presiding officers of the courts to try cybercrime cases.
Well-placed sources told Dawn on Saturday that the federal government had not sent any reference to the chief justice of the Sindh High Court so far for consultation to designate the judicial officers to try cybercrime cases.
The sources added that the federal government did notify the FIA as the law enforcement agency for implementation of the Act, but no recommendations had so far been sought from the SHC chief justice by the federal government, creating a legal lacuna in the cognizance of cybercrimes by the judicial officers.
They said the law was enforced at once without raising infrastructural facilities for courts and training of the judges as required under the PECA.
While the FIA had already started implementation of the cybercrime law and arrested some suspects after the registration of cases against them, the judicial officers faced predicament when suspects were brought before them by the investigating agency for obtaining their physical custody for interrogation and investigation in the absence of any notification by the federal government, the sources told Dawn.
They said that still the judicial officers catered the suspects in view of the legal maxim that no offence should go unchecked and no offence should go unpunished.
SHC Chief Justice Sajjad Ali Shah under the general jurisdiction of criminal codes under Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) directed the existing district judges and judicial officers to take cognizance of the cybercrime cases as stop-gate arrangement till consultation with the federal government, the sources said.
They explained that the legal lacuna regarding the federal government’s notification of judicial officers to take cognizance of such crimes under the PECA surfaced when the FIA brought a suspect to the court of a judicial magistrate of district east to seek his physical remand.
They said that district and sessions judge (east) Fahim Ahmed Siddiqui pointed out the legal lacuna in a reference sent to the SHC chief justice requesting him to guide the judicial officers to deal with the cases under the provision of the PECA.
According to the sources, the Act was promulgated on August 19, 2016 and as per its Section 1(5) it shall come into force at once.
FIA deputy director Mohammad Ahmed Zaeem said an assistant professor at the University of Karachi’s psychology department, Farhan Kamrani, who was earlier remanded to the FIA custody for two days by a judicial magistrate, was later remanded to the judicial custody by the JM.
Prof Kamrani, arrested for repeatedly posting fabricated photos of a female teacher on a Facebook page, was booked under Section 21 of the PECA and Section 500 (defamation) of the Pakistan Penal Code, said Mr Zaeem.
The complainant, who has been working as a visiting faculty at the KU and three other educational institutions, said she did not know the suspect at all. She had been under stress for the past two years, she said, adding that she had lodged her first complaint against the person in February 2015.
The FIA arrested the suspect some three days ago after he had “confessed” to have committed the offence.