Is your spare room filling up?
Which documents in a case should be retained - and for how long?
We have had a spate of questions around the general topic of how long an expert should keep documents from old cases. Any documents that are received, prepared, assessed, considered and created by an expert in the course of proceedings are papers of significance. Indeed, a document which at the time of the original hearing might have been considered trifling could suddenly take on new importance. It is not inconceivable, therefore, that an expert witness might be asked for a document months or years after the original case has been concluded. The expert, then, is faced with a dilemma. Which documents in a case should be retained – and for how long?
We considered this in some detail in issue 50 of Your Witness, back in 2007 (all issues are freely available to members at http://www.jspubs.com/experts/library). But to summarise the key points:
- Experts will want to keep documents because the wheels of justice often grind very slowly, meaning trouble can take a while to surface.
- Retaining documents is linked to the duty experts owe to both the Court and those who instruct them.
- We draw a distinction between documents experts are sent and those they create. Many of the former will be copies of originals and so can often be safely (and securely) destroyed in due course.
- Reviewing the various statutory limitation periods, we conclude that while 6 years is a common time interval to contemplate, the specific nature of a case may dictate a longer period of retention.
For a fuller discussion, turn to Your Witness 50.
Of course, since 2007, scanner technology has progressed significantly. So a room full of paper then might now be rendered down to a single 1Tb portable hard drive that occupies less space than a copy of our Expert Witness Year Book!