Preservation of Documents

Preservation of Original Paper Documents

Particularly if the matter could result in litigation (court or tribunal proceedings) you should take care to preserve all relevant original documents. For most stages of litigation, only copies of documents are required, but the original paper documents would normally need to be brought to the trial in case a party, or the judge, wishes to look not just at the copy, which will be in the trial bundle if it is relevant, but also at the original. Also, at the Disclosure of Documents stage of litigation other parties are normally given the right, on reasonable notice, to come and inspect original paper documents.

Legal deeds, such as trust deeds, and conveyances where land is unregistered, are, for good reason, often stored for safe keeping with a bank or with a firm of solicitors. If you have relevant documents in safe storage, it is usually best not remove them from safe storage for copying but to arrange for copies of them to be made whilst they remain in situ. The bank or solicitors’ firm should be able to give you a list of the documents and you could then ask them to make copies and send them to you as PDFs. However it is often better to make a visit so that you can examine the documents yourself and then decide which are relevant and need to be copied.


Preservation of Electronic Documents and first “native” copy

Documents on a computer, tablet, digital camera, mobile phone, etc. are known as “electronic documents”. Particularly if the matter could result in litigation, you should take care to preserve all relevant electronic documents. It is often the case that electronic documents are likely to be deleted in the ordinary course of life or business. For example if you are an organisation your individual employees may delete emails which are no longer current. Businesses often have specific retention periods for certain types of electronic document and may delete them automatically from central server computers after, say, 7 years, or archive them and reuse archive media after 7 years. The first thing to do, when litigation seems a possibility, therefore, is to ensure that a “snapshot” of current data is taken and retained and to ensure that any relevant archived data, is also retained. Once you have taken those basic steps, the next step is to look more closely for documents which are relevant to the matter in dispute and make copies in folders like this:


Native Copies of Electronic Documents from my home computer

Native Copies of Electronic Documents from my office computer

Native Copies of Emails from my Gmail Account

Native Copies of Electronic Documents from my Galaxy mobile phone


A “native” copy of a document is an exact copy: e.g. a Word copy of a Word file, as distinct from a PDF copy of a Word file. In litigation, for most purposes, PDF copies of documents are used but at any stage it might be necessary to refer back to the native files so these must be carefully preserved. 

Exactly how you make native electronic copies will depend on where the electronic documents are located and where you will be storing the copies. If an electronic document is already on your Windows computer and you want to store a copy on the same computer, you can simply right-click, copy and paste to create a copy in a Native Copies of Electronic Documents folder. If the electronic document is on a different device than the device you will be storing copies on, some other method of copying will be needed. If the electronic document is an email stored in a system such as Gmail or Yahoo then you need to download a copy.

Keeping track of Documents

You may be at the early stages, considering seeking initial legal advice, but, later on, there may possibly be pre-action correspondence and subsequently litigation, during which you will be sending copies of some documents to other parties and they may be sending copies of documents to you. Some copy documents sent to you during litigation may be the same as ones you already have, some may be new to you, and some may be similar to ones you already have but contain small differences, perhaps differences that you do not immediately notice – for example a letter with a hand-written annotation where the copy of the letter you originally received does not have the annotation. It is important not to lose track of what documents you originally had, and what documents you have later received during the litigation process, so, even if litigation may, at the moment, seem a long way off, you should, nevertheless, store  documents already in your possession, and documents you are given by the other side as pre-action correspondence and litigation proceed, separately.

Other Evidence

In addition to documents, there may be physical evidence - often called real evidence. For example in a case concerning damage to property, or goods alleged to be faulty, the property itself is evidence and should be carefully preserved. In some cases in may be impractical to leave property in an unaltered state until any trial but if alterations are to be made - for example if repairs need to be carried out - it is particularly important that photographs are taken before the repair or other alteration is carried out and, if old parts are replaced with new, the old parts should be retained. If an expert, such as an engineer or surveyor is to inspect property and produce a report then, if at all possible, any repair or other alteration should be delayed until after the expert has carried out their inspection.


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 August 2018. Disclaimer