Potential Technology Options for Criminal Prosecutors

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The recent reports regarding the number of prosecution cases which have been dropped by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in the UK, apparently due to issues with the evidence disclosure process, have led to various related issues being highlighted and solutions being sought.

Some of the issues raised are not dissimilar to those experienced by the electronic disclosure community in civil matters and alternative dispute resolution, or within the risk and compliance community.

In this post, we discuss some of the common issues, and some of the technology that exists to address them.

Finding Digital Needles in Haystacks – Dealing with Increasing Volume of Data

Nick Ephgrave, Chief Constable and National Police Chief Council’s Lead for Criminal Justice, said that the potential issues regarding disclosure were “exacerbated by the rapid expansion of digital material involved in almost every case” 1. The Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, has also acknowledged there are challenges with the “large volume” 2 of digital evidence, in particular in relation to social media messages. These thoughts are backed up by Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions, who said in an interview with Newsnight, that if all information such as social media and mobile phone data was to be considered “it would just drown us in material” 3.

The Joint National Disclosure Improvement Plan (to which both Saunders and Ephgrave are signatories) was drawn up to assist in addressing the issues that have been raised. This document also focusses on the above point, stating “There has been an explosion in the volume of digital material created in criminal investigations” 4.

The electronic disclosure community working in the civil litigation and alternative dispute resolution fields has considerable experience with the growing data volume involved in matters over the last decade. There are a number of related issues, with different approaches and technologies that have been, and continue to be, developed in order to address them.

One of the first considerations is that of volume – how best should you collect and store large volumes of data? Moving on from that quandary, another consideration is how you go about planning your approach to searching that data, to ensure that you can focus on the most relevant data first. It may be helpful to note that “relevant” in this context relates to the criminal test for disclosure to the defence.

Alison Saunders identified the issue with searching large data volumes, “How do we find that needle in a huge data haystack, and how do we know that it’s relevant” 5. The Joint National Disclosure Improvement Plan also raises the issue, reflecting on “the extremely large amount of data that requires capturing, analysing, reviewing and disclosing where appropriate” 6.

Focus has also been placed on difficulties surrounding information from social media, and in particular, data from mobile phones.

Riskcovery® and Advanced Message ReviewSM

As discussed above, there are technologies and approaches which have been developed for the purposes of electronic disclosure, or for assisting risk and compliance teams which could potentially assist with the above challenges. This is again a point highlighted by the Joint National Disclosure Improvement Plan, which states for example “There is great potential for the use of more advanced technologies in this area” 7 and “We have identified areas where technology could help the disclosure process in providing advanced search tools, improved document and process management, content analysis and actually assessing the relevance of material” 8.

Two of Advanced Discovery’s solutions which can assist with addressing the above issues are Riskcovery and Advanced Message Review.


Riskcovery is a patent pending software, built using industry leading conceptual analysis technology. Riskcovery includes search methods beyond simple keywords, enabling searches for concepts with similar meanings. This means that you can identify relevant material even when you don’t know what exact words and phrases may be in use.

In addition, Riskcovery has a number of pre-defined taxonomies – sets of text reflecting example concepts related to specific issues. These taxonomies can be used to identify documents in your data set which are responsive to those concepts. Examples of taxonomies include those built around sexual harassment or bullying and abuse in the workplace. Furthermore, users can build and extend their taxonomy suite by adding their own content and example documents to identify items likely to be responsive to additional specific themes or contexts.

Riskcovery is also designed to connect to data sources such as Exchange email, Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, Gmail and other web-based email. This negates the need for that data to be collected, stored and preserved prior to Riskcovery being able to index and search the data. As mentioned above, Riskcovery also ingests data from mobile devices, by processing reports from common tools used by the CPS and national police to collect mobile data, such as Oxygen and Cellebrite.

Because of its capabilities, Riskcovery is a great tool for prioritising data for review or further investigation – helping you identify the most relevant data to consider first.

Riskcovery is a textual analytics tool – it works by extracting the text of documents and indexing these. This has the benefit beyond many other analytics software in that no other tools are required to process and extract data prior to using Riskcovery.

Advanced Message Review (“AMR”)

As we have touched on numerous times above, one of the issues identified has been the difficulties relating to data from mobile phones. Advanced Discovery has developed AMR, as a patent pending solution to exactly this problem.

It can be difficult to review the content of mobile phones. Typically, once captured, the data from text messages and chat applications such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Skype is provided separately, on a message by message basis, in a tabular format, such as in an Excel file. AMR, however, threads chat conversations together so that they can be reviewed in context and be viewed in a similar manner to how they would appear natively appear on the mobile device.

AMR also embeds items such as photos, videos and voicemails into the conversation thread – bringing these to the front of review, rather than a line of code pointing to a file held elsewhere, which could result in those multimedia files being missed as part of review.

Because of the way that AMR works, it can be used with review platforms such as Relativity – allowing for full use of analytical tools such as concept clustering and full keyword searching.

In Conclusion

Tools such as Riskcovery and Advanced Message Review, while developed with the risk management and electronic disclosure worlds in mind, could become a key part of prosecutors’ approach to meet the challenges that have been identified with regard to criminal disclosure., (2018). “Police and prosecutors announce action on disclosure” [online] Available at [Accessed 8 February 2018].
Speaking to John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
Speaking to Mark Urban on BBC Two’s Newsnight programme., (2018). “National Disclosure Improvement Plan” [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 February 2018].

5 Speaking to Mark Urban on BBC Two’s Newsnight programme.
6, (2018). National-Disclosure-Improvement-Plan-January-2018.pdf [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 February 2018].
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.

Author: Dr. Tristan Jenkinson


Dr. Tristan Jenkinson has over ten years of experience working in the digital forensics and electronic disclosure field. He has provided expert evidence to the high court and advised and assisted corporate clients, law firms and government bodies on an extensive number of cases covering the UK, Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia. Jenkinson is a Certified Computer Examiner and he has worked as the lead investigator on many forensic investigations and as well as providing expert evidence to court he has attended formal expert meetings and attended court at the request of lawyers and barristers to assist with cross-examination. He has analyzed reports from other experts to highlight inconsistencies, omissions and potential errors and provide general comments. He has also advised clients on the wording of instructions to be provided to Single Joint Experts. Jenkinson holds a MMath (Masters) and PhD in Mathematics from the University of Leeds, England.

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