Jason Coyne is a Partner at IT Group (part of Blackrock Expert Services Group). He is an expert IT and digital forensics consultant with over 30 years’ experience spanning a number of global industry sectors. He specialises in technology disputes, digital evidence and technology-based intellectual property matters.

Describe your career to date

I started my career as a computer programmer; writing software for accounting, manufacturing, warehouse automation, distribution and direct marketing systems. This gave me a broad understanding of the number of diverse businesses utilising technology for operations.

After leaving this job, one of my previous customers contacted me to provide advice about a software related dispute that they were facing. Although at the time I hadn’t been aware of the role of an expert witness, I ended up giving evidence in the matter and shortly after that I joined a business dedicated solely to expert witness work within the technology industry.

After three years, I stepped away from contentious matters and using my experience to date, started a company dedicated to helping clients improve the clarity over roles and responsibilities in the procurement, management and project performance measurement process to avoid the risk and mitigate the impact of disputes.

After nine years in that role, in 2009, I returned to focusing on expert witness work, joining Tony Sykes at IT Group.

Can you describe the type of projects you typically work on?

IT Group works on a diverse range of projects. The disputes team are often looking at why a technology enabled project has failed. Typically, this is in part due to something going wrong with the tech itself and we will be asked to investigate bugs, errors and defects in the design or the implementation. We also look at projects that have suffered delays in delivery or cost overruns where the project wasn’t delivered on time or in budget.

Within digital forensics, we are often looking to establish what has taken place within a computer system or mobile device, when and how it occurred and who is responsible. We work on a range of matters including the theft of confidential information, employee wrong-doing, hacking, fraud and any inappropriate use of technology. Quite often we are asked to recover deleted documents or messages, to determine if material has been altered or to establish if attempts have been made to copy data from one device to another. We are often instructed where an individual leaving one organisation to join another is suspected of taking confidential information or intellectual property, typically within software or electronics, often to develop product further in the new organisation.

Within the eDiscovery team, we offer support throughout the litigation lifecycle. Parties in litigation are often required to disclose documents relevant to the dispute which often requires sifting through many thousands or millions of documents to produce a smaller subset of relevant documents for the litigation counterparty in a controlled manner. A high level of searching is required to find documents subject to privilege or for consideration as to litigation risk. We provide consultancy throughout the document review process and have in-house two document review platforms that enable the collection of all material for lawyers to collate, search and review.

You were the appointed expert in the Alan Bates & others v Post Office Limited [2019] EWHC 3408 (QB) group litigation. How did your background lead you to this appointment, and what was your experience working on a trial with so much public interest?

IT Group became involved in what is now referred to as the “Horizon Trial” very early on when we were engaged by the sub postmaster’s legal team to help determine the types of document disclosure requests that should be made to the Post Offices’ legal team. This required us to gain an understanding of the Post Office Horizon system and the relationship between the Post Office and its many subcontractors; each of whom contributed towards the technology and business process. We worked on this for many months before submitting our first technical report which explained how Horizon has the capability for bugs, errors or defects that impacted its accounting figures.

This eventually led to the Horizon trial which was the second trial in the Bates & Ors v Post Office group litigation at the High Court. It ran between 11 March 2019 and 2 July 2019 at the Rolls Building in London and I was cross examined over four days.

It was an interesting case to be involved with, not only due to the high level of public interest, but because the team and I managed to get to a level of detail not always afforded to us in expert instructions. The ability to pull threads together from millions of documents to uncover defects in the technology, and then to overlay these defects on support queries being raised by several of the sub postmasters in order to link them to apparent losses appearing in accounts was particularly challenging but satisfying. You do not often get the see that level and be granted the time to look at it.

What advice would you give to an up-and-coming expert starting out?

Primarily, we often find that instructing parties will provide a number of statements set out as being fact but which are actually just opinion. As an expert, you must validate any facts or opinions that are provided to you as soon as possible as that validation will form the foundation for your expert report.

If it is the case that you can’t validate certain aspects, make it clear in your report that you are unable to validate them, and that you have proceeded on the basis that these are assumed facts. If it then turns out that the assumed facts are not true, then this gives you the opportunity to come to a different set of opinions or conclusions.

Reports that you put together will go through a number of different stages after you’ve signed them off, where other parties involved in the dispute will be reviewing your report and digging around for gaps or flaws in your reporting and, quite often, they have more time to do this than you were afforded when putting the report together. Ultimately, it is you that will be cross examined and you don’t get a second chance at a cross examination.