Digitisation of records across the Government and Businesses

In 2014-2015, the New South Wales government initiated a landmark project with a budget of $22 million for the State Records Authority to digitise its records and documents, so that the cost for accessing and retrieving documents will be significantly reduced. State Records in NSW holds the largest collection of records relating to the history of the state, including files, photographs, maps, plans and volumes about convicts, Aboriginal people, land, agriculture, immigration, railways, courts, schools and hospitals.

This implementation by the government to transition government records into digital copies is part of the Digital Transition Policy, a federal policy requiring all agencies under this jurisdiction to create, store and digitally manage the majority of their records and scan incoming paper records so no new paper files are created, with 2015 the deadline year for all newly-created records to be digital only.

Particularly in the New South Wales Courts, the Prosecution Project concentrates on analysing and digitising the Supreme Court records with express interest in the prosecution of serious crime. This will greatly facilitate the court proceedings in such areas and provide great data for legislators to research precedents for court rulings.

With the world moving their intellectual property into digital assets, there are things that need to be noted with relation to how these documents will stand in the court of law. Imagine that you are moving all your business documents into digital - the first question that comes to mind will be: Are my digital records admissible in court? This is a question that not only affects NSW Courts, but any company undergoing a digitisation program for their business documents.

In NSW, there is no barrier to organisations tendering digital images of records as evidence. They can be submitted in legal proceedings and in response to Government Information (Public Access) Act (GIPA) applications and used for other evidentiary purposes. There are 2 major legislations that affect the admissibility of evidence, especially in the area of commercial disputes:

Electronic Transactions Act 2000 (NSW) This Act permits the retention of records in electronic form if the method for generating the records in electronic form provide a reliable means of maintaining the integrity of the information and that the information is readily usable and accessible for subsequent reference (section 10).
There are exceptions where originals are required.
Evidence Act 1995 (NSW) This Act, which mirrors the Commonwealth Evidence Act, governs the admissibility of evidence in legal proceedings.
The definition of a ‘document’ includes information in any form, including digital information on a computer or removable media.
Under this Act, an ‘original’ is not automatically regarded as better evidence than a copy, including a copy made by electronic means.

However, there can be particular occasions where digital evidence may not be admissible in court without further changes in legislation.

For example:
Conveyancing is a function where the provisions of the Electronic Transactions Act and Evidence Act are not robust enough to allow digital business to replace original paper records. The Australian Registrars’ National Electronic Conveyancing Council (ARNECC) has been established to develop an Electronic Conveyancing National Law. This will be an integral part of the legal framework being developed by States and Territories for national electronic conveyancing.

Digital images of original paper records can still be challenged by court in certain circumstances, so it is imperative that every organisation's digitisation program should entail covering documentation on how the digitisation was conducted, digital images created and kept. The following will help boost the admissibility of such documents and prevent the situation where digital records' authenticity is challenged in court:

1) A trusted and reliable framework for digitisation, such as established procedures, trainings for staff and review mechanisms.

2) Full and accurate representations of originals, such as quality assurance checks at timely schedules with suitable metadata and technical specifications.

3) Protecting digital images from unauthorised access, tampering or loss, such as security access controls, system audit trails and document backup regimes.

These measures can help your business to demonstrate that your recordkeeping and accountability practices are sound and can stand up to the scrutiny of the courts, Parliament, the Ombudsman and relevant auditors.

Some of the features within the Webrecs Document Management System that will help boost your digital records' admissibility include but are not limited to:

  • Relocatable User Backup
  • System Audit Trails
  • Security Access Controls
  • Workflow Review Mechanisms

Reach out to us if you are interested to find out more about our unique document management system (that is not just standalone but integrated with a CRM system as well)!

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Our first blog article investigates how technology has impacted the legal arena, as well as how the Government and Businesses are utilising the cloud technologies to store original records. What does the future hold for lawyers and their clients? Will digital documents hold court in today's legalisations? Find out how future business dealings with your lawyer may change as organisations across the board move documents into the cloud.

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