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Tech incompetence causes collapse of trial

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Tech incompetence causes collapse of trial

A £5 million fraud trial at the Old Bailey has been dismissed – because of a lack of effective software and technology to gather and process evidence.

Judge Wendy Joseph QC made a stinging attack against the National Crime Agency (NCA) – often referred to as the UK’s own FBI – as she dismissed the jury, saying it had been incompetent, and that the prosecution’s case had gone “beyond negligence.”

The NCA had brought the case against suspected fraudsters after many institutions – including a zoo and a college – had been defrauded of millions of pounds. However, problems with several aspects of the evidence surfaced within days of the trial’s opening, ad the judge found that the NCA had failed to accurately gather, process and investigate evidence, and that in some cases evidence was completely missing. 

In one notable example of tech-failure, detectives had lacked appropriate software to screen-grab images from CCTV footage, and had relied on using smartphones to take low-res shots of the screen (with predictably blurred results). The NCA lacked even the readily available software allowing pdf documents to be cut and pasted into documents, and again attempted to rely on smartphone photos. Nor could they access their digitally stored and served case papers, or create accurately paginated statements and exhibits. The result material was, said the judge, not mincing her words, “Useless.”

The upshot of this failure to make the most of the tech so readily on offer to assist with processing evidence? The accused were left grinning broadly in the dock as the prosecuting lawyers were forced to concede they could offer no reasonable evidence.

Turning to a doubtless bemused jury, the judge said, “It must be very apparent to you that things have gone terribly wrong in this case. The prosecutor accepts he cannot continue with the case in front of you. Everyone accepts that with the state of the evidence as it is – half investigated, material missing, material misleading – it is simply impossible to go on with you.” She then implored the jury not to leave the mighty environs of the Old Bailey with the mistaken impression that cases were normally conducted in so haphazard and incompetent a fashion.

This story appears almost to have come from a period ten years ago when the use of legal tech was still viewed askance in some quarters. At a time when GSCE students could edit a pdf document with one hand and Photoshop an image with another, it seems staggering that legal professionals could have been reduced to such measures.

But it would seem there remain agencies – and perhaps firms and chambers – who have yet to realise that when it comes to effectively bringing a case, legal tech is an essential aspect of legal practice. If you are looking to ensure your practice is fully equipped to operate in a 21st-century legal marketplace, call litigation support professionals Legastat now for advice.