Technology on trial - justice system could do better at finding digital fingerprints

I’ve just completed jury duty – my first real-life experience of the English judicial process. It’s a fascinating thing to do – I would recommend it to anyone. But it was also an eye opener for the role of technology as evidence in a case.

This is based on just one trial in which I was involved – albeit a complex and disturbing one – and it’s always risky to generalise, but if the trial was symptomatic of elsewhere in the criminal justice system, it’s clear there is a lot to learn, and to gain, about how technology can help.

As a juror I’m restricted in what I can discuss about the case – we 12 were unable to reach a verdict and the Crown Prosecution Service now has to decide whether or not to re-try the defendant.

But suffice to say it was a difficult case, involving acts of incest and paedophilia. As is so often the case with sexual assault charges, it can boil down to one person’s word against another’s.

Big advances have been made in the use of technology for evidence in court cases. Specialist police officers are trained in recovering information from mobile devices and other computers. The use of mobile location tracking and CCTV has been key to many cases.

But if my experience is anything to go by, the justice system is still missing an opportunity. With ever more widespread use of mobile devices, apps, social media and so on, the evidential trail is widening.

As a juror I can’t go into details of this particular case, but I would say that better use of technology-based evidence might have made a significant difference to the trial.

We all leave an extensive digital trail these days – recognised by the government in its controversial attempts to force through legislation to retain as much of our technological footprint as possible.

But greater knowledge and awareness about technology needs to be spread through the police and judiciary, and a greater focus on how digital fingerprints can be just as important as physical ones.

If, as I suspect, the trial I watched was just one example of a much wider issue, there is a huge opportunity to improve the English justice system – and cut its costs – if technology is used more wisely and effectively in preparing evidence to help a jury make its difficult decision of guilty or not guilty.

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