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Computer Evidence still Hearsay
An example of the complications of the law of hearsay occurred in the case of R -v- Coventry Justices ex parte Bullard and another (QBD) (LSG 15 April 1992 page 33). In this case a local authority sought liability orders, the findings by a Magistrates Court which are necessary to enforce collection of Community Charge, or now Council Tax. To support the application, and as evidence of the amounts which were due, the Council produced to the Court computer printouts of the state of the accounts as known to them.
The appellants made no admission as to the amounts due, challenging instead the right of the local authority to introduce the print outs as evidence. They said that the paperwork was hearsay. It was based entirely upon statements made by the several individuals who had made the entries into the computer system. Reliance upon the paperwork, meant that the opportunity to cross-examine these individuals was lost.
The applicants succeeded because the laws which allow hearsay evidence applied to certain proceedings, but not all. Civil proceedings in Magistrates Court had not been affected by the Civil Evidence Act Rules, nor by case law. The provisions admitting computer based evidence in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) did not apply, because these were not criminal proceedings. These proceedings being neither criminal nor civil, the documents were therefore in themselves inadmissible. Since the Court could take no account of them, the local authority was unable to prove the state of the accounts. The application for liability orders failed.
It is important to note that the documents were rejected in their entirety, not merely because they were not supported by evidence that the computer was working properly. The rules simply did not make allowance for this kind of case.
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