Digitization of Forensic Examination – EU Project Pravo-Justice Held the Online Discussion


On March 16, the EU Project Pravo-Justice held the online discussion: “Forensics and Digitization: Issues of IT Support.” The event was attended by the representatives of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine; R&D institutes of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine; the Specialized Laboratory for Expertise and Research of the State Customs Service; the SE Information Judicial Systems; Ukrainian R&D Institute of Special Techniques and Forensics of the SSU; associations of forensic experts; and international experts. The representatives of the Expert Forensic Center of the Ministry of Internal Affairs were also invited to participate in the discussion. The main goal of the online discussion was to review the needs for digitization of forensics, in particular, improving the register of forensic experts; providing expert opinions in electronic form; creating the Cabinet of the Forensic Expert and integrating it with the UJITS; digitalization of document flow; data security.

Oleksandr Banchuk, Deputy Minister of Justice of Ukraine opened the event. According to Mr. Banchuk, the electronic document circulation of forensic experts has already been implemented; information on the workload of institutions and experts by types of expertise is published on the websites of relevant forensic institutions.

“We recently monitored the forensics-related legislation. There is a demand for new IT solutions. Certain elements of the digitization of forensic experts were included in the draft law “On Forensic Activity”, which is currently being considered in the Verkhovna Rada. We have also registered recently the draft law No. 9090 “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts Regarding Digitization of Court Proceedings and Improvement of Summary Proceedings in Civil Matters.” This document provides for the possibility of drawing up the expert’s opinion in electronic form; the possibility of remote participation of a forensic expert in relevant court sessions. We have also been changing the procedure of giving the oath of a forensic expert with the help of a qualified electronic signature,” said Oleksandr Banchuk.

For his part, MP Ihor Fris, member of the Committee on Legal Policy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, has clarified that the Committee is currently considering four draft laws on the forensics-related reform Ukraine.

"We have registered four draft laws relating to novelties in the field of forensic examination. However, the committee members made a conceptual decision to develop one consensual draft law, which would combine the best proposals of the four documents, while also taking into account the proposals voiced at our online discussion”, said Ihor Fris.

The online discussion paid special attention to the whether it would be reasonable to introduce something similar to the automatic allocation of cases among judges when it comes to forensics.

“In order to ensure the independence, objectivity and speed of forensic examinations, I believe that it would be appropriate to introduce something similar to the automated allocation of relevant cases in the forensic activities”, suggested Oleksandr Banchuk.

According to Gabriele Judkaite, Expert of the EU Project Pravo-Justice, EU countries do not have automated selection of forensic experts, but such decisions are possible. “After having analyzed legal traditions of the EU MS, we can state that there is not a single state where the court would be deprived of the right to choose a forensic expert, and such right was transferred to automated systems. This is how it works for us: the court independently chooses which expert from the list of the accredited professionals to involve in working on a certain case”, said Gabriele Judkaite suggesting, in the meantime, partial automated distribution of cases among experts, as an option.

“It is possible to develop an option in which the system pre-selects several candidates, and then the court chooses an expert from the list, who can be involved in the work,” added Gabriele Judkaite.

In his speech, Ihor Starodubov, President of the Union of Experts of Ukraine raised the issue of improving the existing register of forensic experts.

"Experts have recently got the opportunity to sign opinions in electronic form. Further steps should consist in changing the procedure for maintaining the register of certified forensic experts, namely in providing the possibility of saving electronic keys so that such an expert could be identified once connected to the electronic court. As of today, it is impossible to identify the expert who signed the opinion. There may be several experts in the register having the same full name”, said Ihor Starodubov. He also underlined the expediency of introducing proceedings in electronic form. “At the moment, it is unclear how an opinion, signed electronically, may be stored in the supervisory procedure, which, in accordance with the Instruction, shall be kept in paper form and stored for five years”, added Ihor Starodubov.

Mykola Kozlov, acting General Director of the State Enterprise “National Information Systems” informed that his institution had been actively working on the development of the functions of the Forensic Expert’s electronic cabinet.

Key National Expert of the Property Rights and Enforcement Component of the EU Project Pravo-Justice Oleh Mykhaliuk emphasized the relevance of information security and data protection in the work of forensic experts. Unauthorized intervention in the information systems of forensic institutions and leakage of information from them may have great negative impact. In particular, not all expert institutions have corporate e-mails and information security policies.

“Moreover, the official websites of some expert institutions in the contacts section contain addresses of email boxes on the domains ukr.net, gmail, etc. Sometimes forensic experts use personal mailboxes and messengers for work purposes. All this brings about high risks in terms of information security. As the survey conducted during the discussion showed, not all forensic institutions can guarantee centralized storage of experts’ opinion in electronic form," said Oleh Mykhaliuk.

As to the concept of automatic allocation of forensic tasks, Oleh Mykhaliuk noted that this would contribute to increased transparency in the work of forensic institutions, effective use of the institution’s resources, etc. At the same time, automatic allocation shall not be random, but take into account the experts’ workload, specialization, etc. Mykhailo Mozhaiev, Deputy Director of the R&D Forensic Center for Information Technology and Intellectual Property of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, covered the issue of increasing the security of forensic experts’ data, preventing cyberattacks and information leakage.

"Every day we face cyberattacks and attempts of unauthorized interference with the work of experts. Therefore, at our Institute, we decided to switch to the enterprise automation system. We also try to secure the working laptops of experts. We are also working to make sure that all experts perform their work in the domain," said Mykhailo Mozhaiev.

Speaking of the necessary IT solutions for organizing the work of forensic experts, Vitalii Bondarchuk, Deputy Head of the Center for Forensic and Special Expertise of the Ukrainian R&D Institute for Special Equipment and Forensics of the SSU advised to take a closer look at the functions of the Unified Register of Pre-trial Investigations.

“Taking into account the fact that most of our work is related to the pre-trial investigation of criminal offenses and most of our customers are law enforcement agencies, the digitization of forensic findings is closely related to the digitization of all stages of pre-trial investigation. Therefore, the Unified Register of Pre-trial Investigations can be used as an example to organize and digitize the work of forensic experts," said Vitalii Bondarchuk.

Valerii Bakal, Lead of the IT component of the EU Project Pravo-Justice, talked about the initiative to automate as many processes as possible in the activities of forensic experts.

“We tend to automate as many processes as possible. What cannot be automated shall be digitized. We are ready to participate in the implementation of the electronic cabinet system for enforcement officers and the improvement of the register of experts. All this will make it possible to analyze the work of experts, to accumulate a base of knowledge that we will use in our further work", summarized Valerii Bakal.

Oleksandr Oliinyk, Director of the Directorate of Justice and Criminal Justice of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, emphasized the need for a rational approach and preliminary economic calculation of any innovations, in particular, the automated allocation of cases among forensic experts.

“Each forensic institution is like a separate hub, which has a set of equipment and functions that are different from another forensic institution. Thus, the same type of forensic examination can be performed by various centers, but with different quality, depending on technical capacity and equipment. There are many qualifying characteristics for choosing an institution or an expert. It is unclear whether all these criteria may be duly reflected in the terms of reference. Besides, each draft law shall be accompanied by a financial feasibility note and a certain forecast of its impact on legal relations. In order to predict whether its implementation is effective, one needs to understand what logistics is needed and what is necessary from the technical standpoint. As of now, there is no clear understanding, because no one has calculated it,” said Oleksandr Oliinyk.

Based on the results of the online discussion held on March 16, the EU Project Pravo-Justice will prepare an analytical report and submit it to the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, the Committee on Legal Policy of the Verkhovna Rada, and other public agencies.