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  • Writer's pictureStephen Berriman

Workplace Investigation Series Part 4: Evidence

Welcome to part 4 of our workplace investigation series. Here we look at the kinds of evidence needed for decision making, with a focus in this part on documentary evidence.  Part 5 of the series will look more closely at oral evidence to be gathered from interviews.

Kinds of Evidence

Generally speaking, evidence is any object or information, which tends to prove or disprove the existence of a fact in issue. There are three primary forms of evidence: testimony, documentary and real evidence. Evidence is also subject to other classifications, which are unnecessary to discuss here.

In an investigation the main sources of evidence tend to be:

  • oral evidence (personal recollections);

  • documentary evidence (records);

  • expert evidence (technical advice); and

  • evidence from a site inspection.

Investigators should always try to get information directly from the source. The relative importance of each information source will vary according to the nature of the complaint or alleged misconduct.  For example, if financial misconduct is being investigated, documentary evidence such as accounting records would become very important.

In most investigations into the conduct of individuals, the main types of evidence are the oral evidence of witnesses and documentary evidence.  In some cases, however, expert evidence may be needed.

All evidence collected should be reliable and relevant to the aims of the investigation.  Investigators will often obtain a great deal of extraneous information, but they should avoid being diverted by this and refer constantly to their investigation plan to remind themselves that the purpose of obtaining information is to establish proofs or resolve the facts in issue.

Allegations may in some circumstances become the subject of legal proceedings.  For that reason, a basic understanding of the rules of evidence is useful for an investigator. Another reason for an investigator to have a general familiarity with the main rules of evidence is that, even if these rules do not apply to the investigation, they are based on principles that can assist the investigation by directing the investigator to the best evidence.

Please seek advice if you want a better understanding of the rules of evidence.

Collecting documentary evidence

Some of the most reliable evidence in an investigation is documentary evidence.  On the whole, documents don’t tend to lie – except, of course, if they are forgeries or are manufactured or amended after the event.

Tips for managing documentary evidence:

  1. Secure any relevant documentary evidence – all relevant files, diaries, USB drives etc. Any documentary material that is produced after the file has been taken into the investigator’s possession or control should be regarded with suspicion.

  2. Record when, where and how possession of the documents was taken and how the documents were stored.  This can be important if accusations are made at a later stage that the investigator mishandled documents, or allowed them to be mishandled, during the course of the investigation.

  3. Always take original documents rather than accept photocopies.  Useful information is often written in pencil in the margins of documents or appears on post-it notes.

  4. Having taken possession of the originals, photocopy them and use the photocopies during the course of the investigation.  The original documents should be kept secure under lock and key.

  5. If appropriate, verify the authenticity of the documents with the person indicated as being the author of that document.

  6. When taking possession of documents, provide a receipt or other record of this, together with contact details in case anyone needs to access the documents.  If the documents relate to ongoing everyday issues for the organisation, give either a complete copy or a copy of the pages relating to the current period to the person who held them.  In some cases the item (for example, a safety incident register) can be removed if a new one is made available.

In summary, when dealing with documentary evidence:

  • keep all the documents relevant to an investigation in a secure place;

  • make sure that originals are not marked, changed, lost or damaged;

  • take photocopies for use during the investigation;

  • keep a record of when, where and how possession of the documents was taken and how they are stored; and

  • provide a receipt or some other record of the documents taken and contact details.

Part 5 of our series will examine the process of preparing for and conducting interviews to obtain oral evidence.

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