CaseLines Hopes Blockchain Can Quell UK Courts’ Anxiety With Cloud Evidence

London-based legal technology company CaseLines announced it has filed an application in the U.K. to patent a blockchain technology that would integrate into its digital evidence management platform. Taking advantage of blockchain’s ability to allow authorized users to create permanent records that cannot be altered, CaseLines’ technology will be designed to act as a record-keeping and digital evidence verification feature. 

CaseLines expects to develop its patent within the next four to five months. From there, it hopes to roll out the blockchain-updated platform into U.K. jurisdictions where courts are already using some form of cloud-based evidence management systems, including CaseLines’ product.

Paul Sachs, CTO and founder of CaseLines, said the company’s decision to harness blockchain was a way to help courts become more comfortable with using cloud-based evidence management systems. “One difficulty is a courthouse saying, ‘You’re asking us to host the digital evidence data for our cases on the cloud and not on a server that we own and trust. But how can we trust you?’ And the answer to that is blockchain.”

“We already see it across the U.K.; every criminal court in England and Wales is now using cloud collaborative management for evidence,” Sachs said, adding that such court technology is also used in jurisdictions across Canada, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates.

For these courts, verifying that digital evidence files such as PDFs or videos have not been surreptitiously altered after they were uploaded can be a challenge. This is because there are “transformative processes that the evidence goes through” in order to be processed by courts, Sachs explained. For example, Word documents are regularly transformed into PDFs, and video files may be compressed into smaller files.

Given the ease at which digital data can be doctored or manipulated, there is concern over fraud. “A really good example is police video evidence in the U.K. and Europe,” Sachs said. “The nervousness in uploading police videos is high, because police want to be very sure that the video being played in the courtroom is the video they uploaded.”

While such evidence verification in the past relied on managing the evidence’s chain of custody, Sachs believes that blockchain will be an easier and more automated way to make sure evidence hasn’t been altered.

In filing the patent, CaseLines joins a number of companies looking to harness blockchain technology for legal processes. But CaseLines stands out for its emphasis on court evidence management.

Arguably, the most concerted efforts to bring blockchain into the legal industry have focused on the development of smart contracts, which uses blockchain to automatically execute contract terms and transactions. In July 2017, The Accord Project, a consortium of law firms and tech companies, released a prototype of a legal smart contract programming language called Ergo. The project’s members include global firms Linklaters, Dentons, Holland & Knight, DLA Piper, and Baker & Hostetler.

Others in the legal world are moving to launch smart contracts platforms as well. Aaron Wright, co-director of “The Blockchain Project” at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law, has co-founded OpenLaw, a startup that is developing a blockchain protocol for smart contracts, while former lawyer Casey Kuhlman has become CEO of a company called Monax, which is working to develop a proprietary blockchain for contracts called the Agreements Network.

Like CaseLines’ move to embed blockchain in evidence management, many of these other blockchain efforts are still months, if not years, from deploying a market-ready product. So while many are hopeful of the opportunity blockchain technology can afford the legal industry, it is still too early to know whether those ideas will pan out as planned.