How IT sped up the court process

The use of technology played a large part in the conviction of three bogus bankers, writes Kelvin McGregor-Alcorn

A MAJOR fraud trial at Bristol Crown Court ended late last month with the conviction of three con men from the continent who defrauded investors of £6m.

Peter Tuegel, Sebastiano Saia and Gerhard Martens had set up a bogus bank in Torquay and lured investors with claims that the bank had vast assets, when in fact they amounted to $300.

Tuegel and Saia were found guilty of fraud after a six month trial. Martens, believed by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) to have masterminded the scam, changed his plea to guilty at the start of the trial.

The investigation and prosecution of the trio was truly a multi-agency affair which involved investigations in 22 different countries.

Legal Technologies Limited (LTL), which specialises in the provision of legal document and information handling services and technology, was called in to help the SFO at the very early stages of the operation in February 1996. It proved to be one of the most complicated legal cases LTL has ever been involved in.

At the outset of the case we were told that investigators needed speedy access to a massive amount of highly complex information, which would ultimately have to be presented to the judge and jury in a simple and efficient manner.

LTL was asked to send a team to scan documents in a highly secure environment. More than 225,000 pages of original evidence (approximately 620 lever arch files) were image scanned during preparation for the trial.

These documents were then recorded onto CDs, each of which can store the equivalent of approximately 60 lever arch files. While he was being held on remand, one of the defendants complained that he could not fit the case papers into his cell.

But with the use of a laptop and CDs containing the documents, he was able to review them fully.

The scanned pages were electronically linked to information exported from the SFO's document control system. These two components were then imported into DB/TextWorks – an information database with excellent search capabilities. This allowed the investigating team to quickly access specific documents using a range of different search criteria.

Rather than following the traditional approach of photocopying sets of documents for distribution to the defendants and their respective teams, they were distributed in an electronic format.

During the course of the investigation, approximately 240 CD-Roms containing approximately 1.8 million images were produced for distribution.

Immediately before the trial, a network of 22 computer screens was set up in the courtroom at Bristol Crown Court so that the judge, jury, witnesses, defence and prosecution teams could simultaneously view documents, graphics and video and audio evidence via the TrialPro Courtroom document management system.

Graphics were used by prosecuting counsel Francis Gilbert QC with considerable effect during his opening speech.

Both teams of counsel extensively used TrialPro Courtroom to highlight, enlarge, and annotate documents and exhibits, simply by drawing on the computer screen with light pens. This helped to simplify information for the jury.

Two TrialPro PCs were used to display evidence – a main PC and a backup PC. Four CD-Rom towers were connected to the PCs to hold the trial bundle which comprised approximately 25,000 pages, and a number of photographs and graphic exhibits.

An image scanner and PC were also installed to allow any additional items to be added to the trial bundle after the end of each day's session. This information was then available for display when the court sat again the following morning.

After the case's successful conclusion Stephen Myers, the SFO's case controller, confirmed that the use of technology had saved considerable time and money.

For the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary it was the most ambitious use of IT it had ever been involved in.

Detective Chief Inspector Steven Harrison told us he believed the slick presentation of the documents in the courtroom played a crucial part in Marten's decision to change his plea after the prosecuting counsel's opening speech.

And, of course, the use of IT will have played its part in convincing the jury that the other two defendants were guilty.

Kelvin McGregor-Alcorn is director of strategic development at Legal Technologies Limited.