Posted by Tom Dean, senior business development manager at Legal Futures Associate Thomson Reuters
Our world is awash with data and, given the sheer volume of digital artefacts out there, it’s only natural that some end up as crucial exhibits in court.
Around 90% of criminal cases now feature digital evidence in some form. This can include emails, text messages, phone recordings, photographs and social media posts, as well as video footage from phones, dashcams and body-worn cameras.
Readers will no doubt recognise these types of evidence and may be equally familiar with the difficulty in storing them, sharing them and presenting them in court.
But how can something as ordinary as a smartphone video pose so much difficulty to our legal system? Why are many practitioners having to burn media onto a DVD to get it shown in a courtroom in 2023?
Why are hearings brought to a standstill because nobody can find the right cable to connect their laptop to a big screen or they don’t have the software installed to play a certain CCTV clip?
Why are firms sending (or receiving) large media files using free sharing services with no password protection and no security vetting?
Every sector has its own challenges in wrangling digital information. In our case, we must manage data in the context of a legal system that’s built on hundreds of years of tradition and which can be very slow to adapt to change.
Yet, at the same time, we have a workforce and a clientele that is accustomed to quick, easy-to-use, slick, digital interfaces in almost every interaction they have.
It is perhaps worrying that even our biggest firms struggle to provide clients with a modern digital experience on their websites and social media channels.
One wonders what clients think of their interactions with more complex systems like case management.
Courts making some (slow) progress
If law firms have not yet fully grasped the nettle of digital transformation, we might look to courts to provide some of the answers. After all, as arbiters of justice, courts can dictate best practices for all parties.
There have so far been some laudable efforts to streamline (and, to some extent, standardise) digital evidence management in UK courts.
The Crown Court Digital Case System, for example, allows lawyers to share information with other parties, judges and court staff, and collaborate on documents and the bundle. There is also free training available and a dedicated support service open during working hours.
But not all courts have the resources to offer such a service and the Ministry of Justice doesn’t mention digital evidence at all in its Digital Strategy 2025.
Although the ministry has seen a 162% rise in investment spending since 2010, it is not clear where digital evidence sits as a priority versus “major projects and programmes” like the construction of four new prisons, renegotiation of several major contracts, reform of the Probation Service, and overall reform of the nation’s youth justice programme.
With the wider modernisation of HM Courts & Tribunals Service still not fully delivering on its promises after more than six years, we may be waiting some time for a consistent, modern approach to handling digital evidence.
Law firms can take matters into their own hands
Where do law firms go in the meantime? Do they continue to ask clients to upload files to an unsecured folder in Google Docs or Dropbox?
Solutions already exist that allow law firms to streamline the way they handle digital evidence without waiting for large-scale systematic changes across the profession. Thomson Reuters Case Center provides a single, secure, auditable and accessible platform so practices can build bundles containing the modern digital exhibits that feature in today’s cases.
Clients and opposing parties can be granted permission to access information if required, and can upload, view, or annotate from a web browser or mobile. Exhibits can then be presented in physical or virtual hearings.
And, because Case Center was built by experienced legal technology experts and designed solely for the legal profession, it doesn’t suffer from the security gaps and size restrictions common to general-purpose file-sharing services.
This isn’t a rip-and-replace approach, nor is it a temporary fix. It’s a practical solution to a problem that’s been building in our sector for a while and shows no sign of slowing down. With it, practitioners can spend less time worrying about versions, pagination and file formats and more time focusing on achieving justice for their clients.