Video Evidence: Handle with Care

Some of the new simplicities afforded to us can, unfortunately, cloud ones’ judgement when dealing with images and video for legal use.

Technology has, in most parts, made things incredibly easy. Take the example of photographs and video. We all now love to quickly snap a memory or record some footage of an event. We can adjust the colour or light, crop out unwanted parts, or trim the end of a video. It’s then a simple click on the share button to immediately have that sent to friends or family via a messaging app or social media. 

Some of the new simplicities afforded to us can, unfortunately, cloud ones’ judgement when dealing with images and video for legal use.  Why do it one way, when it’s so much easier to do it another, perhaps quicker way?

In late 2016, at the conclusion of a trial in Nottingham Crown Court, for four men involved in the murder of Aqib Mazhar, Judge Rafferty stated, “there must never be another case in this country where those analysing CCTV don’t have the best equipment.” The quote stems from the fact that it wasn’t until the trial had started that video material was properly reviewed and that significantly changed the weight of the evidence.

Whether it is CCTV evidence, mobile phone video or a sequence of images, the software used to review that evidence can alter the viewer’s interpretation. It could be that the player drops or misses frames. The player could present the video too dark, or too light. The player could change the shape and size of the image or video, resulting in objects appearing smaller or larger. Many surveillance system players alter the image to make it look better, even though that is not what was originally recorded – scary, but true.

In 2015, a conviction of Indecent Assault was overturned at the Court of Appeal. Mr Mohammed Islam was earlier convicted at Flintshire Magistrates Court, where a CCTV image of a vehicle, alleged to be his, was used as evidence. After analysis and enhancement, it was proved not to be his vehicle and his conviction quashed. Mr Islam’s lawyer, Adam Antoszkiw, later stated the crucial evidence was not properly examined because of financial constraints.

Multimedia evidence, especially CCTV or low-quality mobile phone footage must be handled with care. 

When someone asks, “send me a shot of the car, from the CCTV”, you need to trust that the CCTV evidence was acquired correctly to start with, that the processes involved in managing that digital evidence have not altered it in any way, and then, that the image was extracted from the video in a manner that can be relied upon. Image integrity is key, which means that corners must stop being cut for the sake of ease or speed.

The Criminal Justice System in the UK is at breaking point. The disclosure of digital evidence, which includes CCTV and digital multimedia, is daily headline news. If the material is handled with care, using diligence and competency, then there shouldn’t be a problem. If corners are cut then, well, that’s when it can hit the fan.

Read the full article originally published in The Barrister.