We are living in what is usually described as an 'information society' and as the business community makes ever greater use of computers the courts are going to find that increasingly the disputes before them turn on evidence which has at some stage passed through or been processed by a computer. In order to keep in step with this practice it is vital that the courts are able to take account of such evidence. As the Criminal Law Revision Committee recognised, 'the increasing use of computers by the Post Office, local authorities, banks and business firms to store information will make it more difficult to prove certain matters such as cheque card frauds, unless it is possible for this to be done from computers' (CLRC 1972, para 259).
The law of evidence is concerned with the means of proving the facts which are in issue and this necessarily involves the adduction of evidence which is then presented to the court.
The law admits evidence only if it complies with the rules governing admissibility. Computer output is only admissible in evidence where special conditions are satisfied. These conditions are set out in detail in section 69 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 (see further Nyssens 1993, Reed 1993 and Tapper 1993).
In general the principles of admissibility are that the evidence must be relevant to the proof of a fact in issue, to the credibility of a witness or to the reliability of other evidence, and the evidence must not be inadmissible by virtue of some particular rule of law (Keane 1994, pp 15-20; Tapper 1990, pp 51-61).
Real evidence usually takes the form of some material object (including computer output) produced for inspection in order that the court may draw an inference from its own...