A question regularly asked is: 'Will electronic files represent a legally viable record and be acceptable in Court?' The simple answer is 'YES'
Courts and governing bodies now accept that electronic filing is normal procedure for many Businesses and fully accept electronic documents as evidence, or supporting material, so long as Companies can prove that they have applied the appropriate measures to ensure the integrity of the information.
There is a potential reduction in the weight of evidence, if the authenticity of the copy is questioned and it is therefore in the best interests of any Company to follow the procedures set out in the: British Standard Code of Practice BSI DISC PD0008:2004 (also now referred to as BSI BIP008) relating to 'Legal Admissibility and Evidential Weight of Information Stored Electronically' published by The British Standards Institution.
BSI PD0010 'Principles of Good Practice for Information Management' provides the management framework for PD0008. It provides a set of Five Principles to act as objectives for information management
Datasheets giving you relevant information and workbooks can be ordered from BSI - Tel: 0208 996 7269 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org / www.bsi-global.com
Compliance with the Code does not guarantee legal admissibility but defines 'Best Practice' by which a company may demonstrate at any time, in a manner acceptable to a court of law, that the contents of a specific data file created, has not changed since the time of storage - i.e. when the file is 'scanned'. The issue being addressed again is that of authentication.
To assist in this process EDM Solutions use document management software that is compliant with the code of practice and will confirm the integrity of the scanned images against the documents we process, by applying a 'Certificate of Authenticity' to each CD, if it is a requirement
The UK Public Record Office: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk also provides useful guidance on best practice with relation to records management (click on 'Freedom of Information' at the foot of the page 'record managers and archivists' 'codes of practice ' where you can download a PDF version).
They place emphasis on records retaining their qualities of: Authenticity (as an accurate account of an activity, transaction, or decision) Integrity (an assurance that the data has not been changed subsequently) and Non-repudiation (preventing the originator from disowning the record).
Your solicitor should be able to give an opinion on which types of documents are most likely to be disputed in court. There may also be different considerations for civil (on the balance of probabilities) and criminal (beyond reasonable doubt) law.
Upon the question of 'Legal Admissibility' often hinges the decision as to whether to destroy original paperwork once it has been converted into electronic format.
Whilst many Companies who already have 'off-site' storage facilities may choose to then store the originals indefinitely this way, many more go on to have their paperwork destroyed.
'Are electronic files accepted by the HM Revenue & Customs?'
'YES' HM Revenue & Customs certainly do accept electronic documents as they, themselves, have been tasked to assist the Government achieve a target that customers will be able to conduct 100% of their dealings with all government departments electronically, by the end of 2005.
At present, the law makes no distinction between electronic or paper records. As a result, HM Revenue & Customs simply refer to 'records' in their guidelines. Whether a business keeps their records on paper or electronically makes little difference. They do, however, insist that you inform them of the format you use for your electronic storage. Therefore, a business should advise their local VAT office that they wish to store scanned document copies of all their records in 'format X' (Tiff format etc) and that those records will be held on CD or within document management system 'Y'.
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