We are often asked whether digitising paper documents and the subsequent disposal of original paperwork provides sufficient compliance with current legislation should the documents be needed by official bodies or as part of legal proceedings. In order to answer any questions surrounding this, the following is written to clarify the legal admissibility of scanned documents.
In practically every instance, scanned documents, whether they are PDF, Tiff, JPEG or any other format, they are usually deemed acceptable by bodies such as HM Revenue & Customs. They are also accepted when submitted as evidence in legal trials as long as it can be shown that diligence and due care has been taken with their creation, cataloguing, indexing and storage.
What bodies stipulate the legal admissibility of scanned documents?
British Standards (BIP 0008:2008), the Data Protection Act of 1998, as well as the current Law Society stipulations lay out clear principles for electronic document management techniques. Both our clients and potential clients can rest assured that we comply wholly with the current best practice and provide a clear audit chain in order to demonstrate our procedures from collection, right up to the destruction of the file if this has been requested.
The Law Society advises that when a file is transferred into an electronic format and the original documents are destroyed, written evidence of the destruction needs to be preserved. We can provide all of our clients with a destruction certificate displaying the documents involved.
The benefits of our solution are therefore instantly apparent when taking into account the time frame of the legal admissibility and obligations to keep documents. HM Revenue & Customs currently require that essential records of organisations need to be kept for at least seven years, whilst the NHS specify the health records of research subjects must be retained for around 30 years.
The Civil Evidence Act 1995
With The Civil Evidence Act of 1995, the onus is to move the question of admissibility to actual evidential weight held by the scanned document itself. This is determined by the procedures followed by a company presenting any documents to the court.
Thereofre, a company presenting documents that have not been altered since it's creation or has a clear audit trail that shows any and all changes since its creation holds a greater 'weight' than a document that cannot show these procedures.
Sections 8 and 9 demonstrate the legal guidelines for digital documents as evidence:
- Where a statement contained in a document is admissible as evidence in civil proceedings, it may be proved:
- by the production of the original
- whether or not that document is still in existence, by the production of a copy of that document or of the material part of it, authenticated in such a manner as the court may approve.
- It is immaterial for this purpose how many removes there are between a copy and its original.
- A document that is shown to form part of the records of a business or public authority may be received in evidence in civil proceedings without any further proof.
- A document should be taken to form part of the records of a business or public authority if there is produced to a court a certificate to that effect signed either by an officer of the business or authority to which the records belong.
The law can be interpreted to show that an original document is not the only admissible evidence in a civil court. Digital copies of documents are acceptable so long as their integrity is portrayed.
The criminal court system which is based upon 'beyond reasonable doubt' involves different requirements and businesses wishing to adhere to these should consult a lawyer for that particular area.
Pearl Scan Solutions Limited suggests that organisations wishing to pursue an electronic document management system consult a legal expert before the destruction of any paper documents. This information is correct at the time of writing and is created for reference only. Pearl Scan will not be held responsible for any accuracy of information, legal action against companies who have relied on this information or any information lost in the process.
The information on this page relates only to laws currently in force within the United Kingdom regarding the legal admissibility of scanned documents.