Use of electronic evidence requires new laws, claims reform group

 

AN EXPERT group should be established to develop standards and guidelines for the verification of electronic and digital signatures, according to the Law Reform Commission (LRC).

This is one of the recommendations contained in its Consultation Paper on Documentary and Electronic Evidence to be launched this evening by the Attorney General, Paul Gallagher SC.

The paper proposes changes in the law to take account of the use of computer-based evidence in both civil and criminal trials.

Among its recommendations are that there should be a general presumption (subject to certain safeguards) that documents and records, whether manual or electronic, should be admissible in civil and criminal cases.

This will save both time and money, as currently witnesses (including specialists from private businesses and members of the Garda Síochána) are often required to turn up on the morning of a court hearing in case they are needed to authenticate documents. Their presence is often not needed if this is then agreed on the day.

The commission also recommends that detailed, smart economy, technical standards for using and verifying electronic and digital signatures (currently used in the Revenue Online Service) should be agreed by an expert working group. These would apply to specific commercial transactions, including those involving the State.

The LRC states that in general there be no difference between the rules concerning manual or computer-generated documents and records; all business records, whether manual or computer-generated, should in general be presumed to be admissible and that the Bankers’ Books Evidence Act 1879, which allows banking records to be admitted as evidence in court, should be updated and extended to apply to records from all financial institutions.

For mechanically generated recordings, such as videos or CCTV, it should be clarified that any defects in their quality should not rule them inadmissible but should be simply a question of the weight given to the recording.

It also recommends that an expert group be established to develop standards and guidelines for the verification of electronic and digital signatures, and that the existing law which presumes that “public documents” are admissible should be updated, because much of the relevant legislation predates the foundation of the State.