A trial has collapsed recently in a fraud prosecution as a result of the prosecutions reliance on an unqualified witness. Narita Bahra QC and John Carl Townsend exposed fundamental disclosure failings which resulted in the collapse of a major carbon credits and diamond prosecution as reported here
The defence team applied to cross-examine the ‘expert’ in a voir dire hearing before he was permitted to give evidence to the jury. It was during this hearing that he was found to be lacking in qualification and experience in relation to his stated expertise. He did however tell the court that he had once seen a documentary on the subject! You really could not make it up. The case makes for disturbing reading and I would like to say we are surprised by this.
Unfortunately, we see unqualified ‘experts’ giving evidence at court, day in, day out in our particular area of forensics. By this we mean that cell site analysis is currently an unregulated area of digital forensics. Absolutely anyone can claim to be an expert in this field, and believe it or not, they often do.
You only need to Google for a cell site analysis expert and in excess of 50 companies will pop up offering this service. You may be surprised to know that only a handful of these companies actually employ a cell site analysis expert. By this we mean an expert who has a relevant background, such as having planned and optimised cell sites for a UK network provider, and given evidence at court, usually working for both prosecution and defence.
The majority of companies offering the service of cell site analysis either subcontract the work to a genuine expert company such as Footprint Investigations, or they use what we would deem an unqualified in-house staff member. This is often an ex police officer who dealt with telecoms evidence whilst serving in a force. They were unable to proclaim expert status while in the police, however now list themselves as experts when working for private forensics companies.
Cell site analysis is a highly complex type of evidence and your choice of expert could be pivotal to your case. We are aware that due to financial constraints the LAA will usually request that solicitors obtain more than one quote for prior authority. Should this be the case then it is worth requesting the CV of the expert who may be undertaking your work as you will usually find a huge difference in their backgrounds and qualifications. Quotes from forensics companies using unqualified ‘experts’ are usually a lot cheaper than qualified ones for obvious reasons. So, if you need 3 quotes then it is best to approach 3 companies with experts of a similar background.
In many cases a defence expert will review the prosecution evidence but not challenge it. Therefore, meaning that the cell site report is not served and never sees the light of day. The ‘expert’ would not be called to court, and any shortcomings in the background or qualification would not be an issue.
The cell site experts at Footprint Investigations recommend that you request a CV and case history from any expert you may be instructing. Find out how many times they have given cell site analysis evidence. Ask if the work for both prosecution and defence and if you are furnished with a ‘cheap’ quote, ask why it is so inexpensive. You look to instruct the best Counsel possible for your client’s case and it should be the same with any expert service required to assist the case.
It is worth noting that as many police forces use their own in-house staff to conduct this type of work, then if you are to challenge their evidence you need to make sure that your expert can do so with credibility.