Legal Admissibility of Scanned Documents

One of the key issues affecting a company's decision to scan and digitally archive documents is whether the images can be used as evidence later. It is also a factor as to whether original documents can be destroyed or need to be kept in deep storage.

"If a document is admissible in evidence, then an electronic image of that document may be treated as secondary evidence in the same manner as a photocopy or a microfiche image. It will be subject to the provisions regarding authentication contained in the Civil Evidence Act (1995) in England and Wales and the Civil Evidence Act (Scotland) 1988 in Scotland."

This is the statement made by Companies House and relates to the way in which their information may be used as evidence. But what does it mean and what are the implications for the use of other scanned information in Court or in any other form of judgement.

The British Standards Institution has issued a Code of Practice for Legal Admissibility of Information Stored on Electronic Document Management Systems, PD 0008:1999. This code of practice provides guidance to ensure, as far as possible, that electronic documents and scanned images will be accepted as evidence by the courts. The key to this guidance is that the process under which documents are managed is as important as the technology used - where a document is reproduced (e.g. printed), it should accurately reproduce the contents of the "original".

The key principles behind PD 0008 are:

  1. Authenticity - Processes to be followed at system planning, implementation and the procedures by which the systems should be operated.
  2. Storage and access procedures - Procedures including scanning, indexing, retrieval, system administration, archiving, off-site storage and training, to be followed.
  3. Demonstrability of adherence - A structured audit process resulting in a Certificate of Conformity that displays demonstrability of adherence.

The Civil Evidence Act (1995) introduces a flexible system whereby all documents and copy documents, including computer records, can be admitted as evidence in civil proceedings. The court judge will still have to be persuaded to treat that evidence as reliable, and so organisations will have to put in place procedures to prove the authenticity and reliability of the record.

As part of all its procedures for clients, ADEC Preview ensures that PD 0008 is followed completely and, equally importantly, helps clients to ensure their own internal procedures also conform to the standard.

A copy of PD 0008 can be obtained through ADEC Preview.