Stephen Mason, Barrister

Stephen, can you tell us something about your background?

After leaving school in 1972 and spending six months at a bank in London, I joined the army (1973-1982). I served in what used to be known as the Royal Army Ordnance Corps as an Ammunition Technician. This work involved the inspection, repair and disposal of military ammunition, and included what is colloquially known as bomb disposal (this includes military bombs found from previous wars (known as explosive ordnance disposal ‘EOD’) and improvised explosive devices ‘IED’, commonly known as terrorist bombs).I left the army to take a degree in 1982. My first degree is in history and educational philosophy, and I then took further qualifications to become a Barrister. I was called to the Bar in 1988.

How did you become involved in writing on electronic signatures?

Stephen Mason: In the autumn of 2002 I realised that few people knew anything about electronic signatures, so I sent in a book proposal to LexisNexis. It was duly accepted, and I wrote the text in the spring and summer of 2003. I had already written about the topic, and wanted to write a book that was useful to lawyers, ordinary users and technical people to illustrate the different types of electronic signatures that the law recognizes. This book covers over 100 jurisdictions with case law, and it is now in the second edition (Electronic Signatures in Law (2nd edn, Tottle Bloomsbury Professional Publishing, 2007)), and I am presently up-dating the text for a third edition in 2011.

The point is, electronic signatures cover a wide range of law, including: Employment law; family proceedings; divorce proceedings; formation of contracts; insurance; ewills; public administration; judicial use; property transactions; local government; planning applications; criminal proceedings and corporations. The list is endless.

You have been responsible for two books on electronic evidence, both of which are a first, and both are substantial texts. What made you do it?

Once the book on electronic signatures was published, my publisher wrote to ask me if there was sufficient material for a book on electronic evidence and electronic disclosure. I was convinced there was, although there was a gap between the initial e-mail (2004) and the first book being published (2007). Now in its second edition (Electronic Evidence (2nd edn, LexisNexis Butterworths, 2010)), I intend it to be a useful guide to lawyers and digital evidence specialists covering, as it does, 11 jurisdictions: Australia, Canada, England & Wales, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, Singapore, South Africa and the United States of America.

The second book came about as a result of my work on the first book. I realised that the issue is global in nature, which is why I put together an additional 35 jurisdictions and edited the second book: International Electronic Evidence (British Institute of International and Comparative Law, 2008), covering: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand and Turkey.

You then went on to found and publish a new journal, the Digital Evidence and Electronic Signature Law Review. Why?

Once I finished my book on electronic signatures, I realised that most legal journals would not really focus on the practical legal issues and case law that I expected to occur in these fields as the century progressed. This is why I began the journal. It has gone through three name changes, partly because of my attempt to get the title right, partly to ensure people understand what the journal covers. I include articles, legal developments and case reports from judges, lawyers, academics and digital evidence specialists. I aim to cover the industry in relation to digital evidence and electronic signatures from across the world. I also include reports on technical advances and book reviews. Additionally, I publish case reports and translations into English of cases relating to electronic evidence and electronic signatures from across the world.

As you can note from the contents of each volume from the web site, the number and quality of articles is good, especially as I have articles from across the globe, and do not restrict articles just to the law. Covering digital forensics is crucial, although I do not intend to compete with the specialist digital forensic journals. I encourage articles from digital evidence specialists on the basis that they offer clear explanations to lawyers and judges, not their peers.

What is the single most important issue facing lawyers and judges in these fields today?

Education. Most lawyers and judges know very little about either electronic evidence or electronic signatures. This needs to be changed, and it needs to be changed rapidly. At present, lawyers that have just qualified can become qualified without knowing anything about electronic evidence or electronic signatures. This means that a young, newly qualified lawyer can begin advising and representing clients with no knowledge of these topics. It is amazing. There can be few cases in this world that do not involve both electronic evidence or electronic signatures (or both) now, yet newly qualified lawyers are not even taught the basics.

We do not see many reports about cases relating to electronic evidence and electronic signatures. Why is this?

First, there are quite a few cases about electronic signatures now from across the world. As you can imagine, I have listed all those I know in my book and I have published a number of articles and case judgments in the Digital Evidence and Electronic Signature Law Review.

Second, there have been a few cases relating to electronic evidence from across the world, but they are generally not very exciting. They certainly would not interest the digital evidence specialist or the non-lawyer. In essence, the cases refer to how electronic evidence is admitted into evidence or how issues relating to authenticity (where it is challenged) are analysed within the legal framework. Challenges over the quality of digital evidence usually occur during criminal proceedings, but the adjudicator (whether it be the members of a jury or a single judge) is usually presented with evidence from one or more digital evidence specialists, and in many cases, the specialists usually agree most of the conclusions to be reached in any event.

What are your plans for the future?

Perhaps one or two more books: one on e-money and one for lay people dealing with considerations of fairness and truth seeking in relation to digital evidence in judicial proceedings.

What do you do to relax?

Be with my wife.

Stephen can be contacted through his website at http://www.stephenmason.eu.

A list of Stephen's books can be found at http://www.stephenmason.eu/books/ and the Digital Evidence and Electronic Signature Law Review is available at http://wwww.deaeslr.org.

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