Inspection of Documents

The history of inspection of paper documents in legal proceedings

Before the invention of the photocopier

Before the invention of the photocopier the Disclosure of Documents stage of litigation (or discovery as it was then called) involved one party to litigation visiting, by appointment, the place where the other party kept paper documents (or their solicitor's office where their documents would be held if they had appointed solicitors) and inspecting the documents relevant to the case a list of which would previously have been supplied. The visiting party could make a manuscript copy of selected documents or could ask the other party's solicitors to make and provide a copy. 

After the invention of the photocopier in the 20th Century

Making a manuscript copy of a document was expensive so a party would inspect all the documents and make a decision as to which ones would be copied. With the invention of the photocopier in the 20th Century, however, it became more cost-effective not to physically inspect the original documents but to simply request copies of all documents on the disclosure list provided by the other party - apart from documents which the requesting party was sure they already had copies of such as correspondence between the parties. 

With the availability of photocopying, a physical inspection therefore became the exception rather than the rule, reserved for those cases where it was really required such as where a document was very faint and the inspecting party wished to establish whether anything more could be seen by looking at the original, or where they wished to examine the original to try to establish whether it was a 'wet ink' original original or a copy.

In exceptional cases a party might, after themselves examining a document, ask the court for a direction that the document should be examined by an expert to see whether by analysis of the paper and/or ink and/or signature it could be established whether the document appeared to be genuine in the sense of having been written by the person it purported to have been written by on the date claimed.  

Inspection of Paper Documents in the 21st Century

The general practice now continues to be that of only carrying out a physical inspection of paper documents in exceptional circumstances and usually relying on the other side providing copies which, of course, nowadays, will generally be PDF copies rather than paper copies.  

Inspection of Electronic Documents

Since the 1960s, when computers first started to be used, and particularly from the 1980s when personal computers, and later mobile phones and tablets, started to come in to widespread use, many documents are actually created as electronic documents - i.e. in addition to PDFs created on a device by scanning in paper documents, many documents on a device, such as digital photos and emails, will actually have been created originally in electronic form without any paper being involved - and inspection of these electronic documents, as well as paper documents, may be sought during the Disclosure of Documents stage.

If an examination of an actual original electronic document, on the electronic device it was created on, is desired this can only realistically be carried out by means of a court/tribunal direction for an expert to examine the device. Just as no party would want to hand over an original paper document to the other side, no party would want to hand over an electronic device particularly as any device is likely to contain a large number of electronic documents most of which will not be relevant to the case and some of those irrelevant electronic documents may contain information which is personal or commercially sensitive.      

In an exceptional case where it is alleged that a particular electronic document is not genuine, examination of the original electronic document actually on the electronic device may be directed but in ordinary cases a much less expensive way of inspecting electronic documents is to ask for a native copy. A native copy is literally a copy in the same format as the original but it is generally understood that when native copies are requested a copy with the same filename (as well as the format) as the original electronic document should be provided - same document type, same data, same file name. So, for example, a native copy of a digital photo named 20181121_153645.jpg will also be named 20181121_153645.jpg A native copy of a PDF named 2019reviewreport.pdf will also be named 2019reviewreport.pdf

Ordinarily copies of electronic documents are provided (as are copies of paper documents) at the Disclosure of Documents stage in PDF form with the PDF copy being given a descriptive filename, because that is the most convenient form to be used when the trial bundle is eventually produced, but a party may, in addition, ask for a native copy of a disclosed document. A party does not have to give a reason for asking for a native copy of any disclosed electronic document but some common reasons why native copies may be requested are:
  • The process of producing a PDF copy of a non-PDF electronic document can sometimes involve choosing different options. For example, when making a PDF copy of a photo which has an area which is dark, you might have chosen an option to adjust the brightness so that that area is easier to see in the PDF copy, but that might have resulted in another area of the PDF copy of the photo (which perhaps the other side is particularly interested in) being too bright and therefore unclear for that reason. If the photo were an old (non-digital) photo in paper/card form, the other side might have asked for a better PDF copy made using different options, but if the photo is a digital photo it may be easier for the other side to ask you to provide a native copy of the JPG file so that the other side can make their own PDF copy with whatever brightness adjustment they choose and/or look at it on a computer screen.
  • It is common practice when making a PDF copy of a digital photo to choose options which mean that the PDF contains both the photo image and key EXIF data such as the camera/phone model and date/time taken. If this is not done the other side could ask you for a further PDF copy including this information but they may prefer to simply ask for a native copy of the JPG file so that they can see all the EXIF data in the JPG for themselves.  

It is good practice to be prepared for a request for a native copy of a document by (whatever else is done to preserve documents) creating native copies, at least of the document types for which native copies are most likely to be requested, in an easily accessible location, and if you have (as you should have) taken the steps explained here you will already have saved copies of photos, videos, audio files, text messages and emails on your main  computer.

Note: In the great majority of cases which are suitable for engaging a barrister direct without a solicitor, there will not be a huge number of documents and so it is usual to supply copies of all disclosed documents to the other side from the outset in PDF form and to load the PDFs into the Bundledocs system so that any document disclosed can be easily included in the trial bundle if required. The above explanation is based on that approach - i.e. all disclosed documents are provided in PDF form (plus JPGs for photos) and native copies are provided only when the other side specifically asks for a native copy of a particular document or set of documents. However some cases involve large quantities of documents at the Disclosure of Documents stage and in such cases electronic documents are routinely provided as native copies, rather than as PDFs, with PDF copies only being made later for that much smaller (but often still very substantial) subset of documents which will appear in the trial bundle. But in such cases solicitors are invariably engaged to manage disclosure of documents.      


This information page is designed to be used only by clients of John Antell who have entered into, or are about to enter into, an agreement for the provision of legal services. The information in it is necessarily of a general nature and is intended to be used only in conjunction with specific advice to the individual client about the individual case. This information page should not be used by, or relied on, by anyone else.

The information on this page about specific computer techniques is provided for information purposes only. Every reasonable effort has been made to ensure that the information is accurate and up to date at the time it was written but no responsibility for its accuracy, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed by me. You should satisfy yourself, before using any of the techniques, software or services described, that the techniques are appropriate for your purposes and that the software or service is reliable.

This page was lasted updated in May 2020. Disclaimer