Digital evidence: How Thai prosecutors are keeping up with crime

By Ming En Liew

Interview with Teerat Limpayaraya, Public Prosecutor at the Office of the Attorney General, Thailand.

Convicted murderer Luka Magnotta spelled out his own downfall when he uploaded videos of himself torturing and killing cats. Amateur internet sleuths took it upon themselves to track the killer down, identifying objects in his videos to uncover his location.

If ordinary citizens can use digital clues to help bring a criminal to justice, imagine what trained professionals are able to do. Public prosecutors in Thailand are getting training in digital evidence and using digital tools to help in their pursuit of justice.

Teerat Limpayaraya, Public Prosecutor at the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), Thailand, shares more.

Digital evidence training for more reliable convictions 

A considerable amount of criminal evidence is stored in digital form, highlighted Jinsuk Park, Senior Prosecutorial and Judicial Adviser on Transnational Organized Crime at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

With criminals employing digital technologies more and more, criminal justice practitioners will deal more with digital evidence, wrote the UNODC. Digital evidence may take the form of emails, browser histories, digital photos, mobile phone files, or data logs, clarifies Limpayaraya.

Thailand’s OAG is training its prosecutors in digital evidence to help them better convict criminals. The training teaches them how to use and present digital evidence in court alongside other types of evidence, says Limpayaraya.

Since Thai Law does not classify digital evidence as a category, prosecutors need to understand how to present digital evidence appropriately in court. For example, digital evidence that is printed out will be classified under document evidence – which is recognised by Thai Law, he explains.

The training will also teach prosecutors how to combine digital evidence with other forms of evidence, like financial transactions, to present a compelling case to the Judge, elaborates Limpayaraya.

One third of Thailand’s public prosecutors will be trained in digital evidence through a series of workshops launched by the OAG and the UNODC. This training will help prosecutors gain knowledge of how to “request warrants, evaluate evidence and use digital evidence in criminal proceedings,” wrote UNODC.

This programme is part of a large initiative to strengthen regional cooperation and improve the ability of ASEAN nations to counter corruption and transnational organised crime.

How data can help lawyers work more efficiently 

Data analytics can help prosecutors learn from past cases and identify trends in legal cases, says Limpayaraya. A database of past legal cases will give lawyers an overview of different types of crime and identify trends such as the rate of prosecution, he adds.

Additionally, it is important for prosecutors to learn from the success or failure of past cases, he says. Detailed logs of these cases will be useful in this scenario.

Currently, the OAG does not have a good data collection and analytics programme in place, shares Limpayaraya. “The data we have available online might not be so up to date, and it is hard to track details,” he highlights.

With better data, OAG would be able to improve prosecution and share better statistics with other agencies, Limpayaraya believes. For example, data can help lawyers easily find past cases simply by looking up keywords, types of offences, or the year of offence.

“I imagine that one day, we can collect details of data and allow our officers to search details and statistics of cases from platforms like LexisNexis and Westlaw, like when we did research in law school,” he adds.

However, many past legal cases are currently still recorded in hardcopy, he shares. This means that lawyers who want to access these cases will need to seek out the prosecutor responsible for the case or scour physical archives for a record.

“If paperless systems come into play more seriously and our regulations allow us to do so, I believe that it will help our work to be more effective,” says Limpayaraya.

Digitalisation during the pandemic

Digitalisation was especially important for Thailand’s justice system during the pandemic, as it allowed court hearings to continue remotely. Lawyers could attend hearings online and submit evidence through scanned files, shares Limpayaraya.

These virtual trials helped keep the justice system running by reducing the number of cases that had to be postponed, wrote GovInsider.

Additionally, the OAG created an online platform which granted citizens access to legal services during the pandemic. Citizens could share their legal concerns, and relevant authorities would respond to them through the platform, Limpayaraya explains.

As criminals become more adept with digital tools, law enforcement and the justice system will need to adapt and keep up to effectively shut them down. If ordinary citizens can help catch a killer simply with keen observational skills, lawyers well trained in digital tools and evidence can undoubtedly do much more.