In court cases, bundles of documents are prepared in support of each party’s argument, and made available to the other side and to the court.
Questions may sometimes arise as to the validity of the documents and paperwork submitted.
Parties will generally produce digital documents, such as bank statements, to prove that what they are saying is true. However, there have been cases where documents have been proved to have been digitally amended.
It is important to bear in mind that manipulating a document is a fraudulent action, and fraud is a criminal offence.
If you have suspicions about a document, here are some ways in which you can check its authenticity:-
- Have a look at the “properties” of the document, which tell you when it was created and when it was modified. If the modification date is different from the creation date then there may well have been interference with the original document.
- Try to ascertain who provided the digital information upon which the person is relying, and if possible ask to see the original email or correspondence from that person when the information was provided.
- If a hard copy document is being relied upon, find out how the person relying upon it obtained that hard copy document.
- Obtain a PDF, not a screenshot or a JPEG of a document which is to be relied upon and require an explanation if a PDF document is refused.
- If for example several bank statements are being relied upon, check that the font is identical across all the statements and check that the numbers add up. In one case a vigilant litigant noticed an addition error in a bank statement!
- Be alert to errors such as a date of “31 November”.
Internet websites freely exist where you can “create your own” bills, bank statements etc. Whilst such websites warn you against committing fraud, they offer a clear illustration of how easily documents can be manipulated.
Such issues demonstrate how important it is for an accountant, solicitor or lawyer to ensure that their client certifies the authenticity of the documents to be relied upon where it has not been possible for the professional themselves to make these checks (which will usually be the case where, for example, email evidence is relied upon).
Be mindful that it may be worthwhile employing a computer expert to examine suspect documents and that unfortunately, rules of procedure in court have not, in all cases, kept up with modern technology. There is often no need for original documents to be produced at a Hearing and therefore the potential for abuse cannot be overlooked.
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