In a recent civil case, the British Columbia Supreme Court had to decide on the admissibility in evidence of a database of transactions under a contract, and the results of SQL analysis of the database that produced a number of Excel format spreadsheets. The people who generated the spreadsheets were available to testify in person about how they had run the queries: Animal Welfare International Inc. v. W3 International Media Ltd., 2013 BCSC 2193 (CanLII).
The opposing party submitted that the analysis done in extracting the data constituted expert evidence, and the witnesses needed to be qualified as experts before their evidence – and the spreadsheets – could be admitted. (para 46 – 51)
The court held otherwise (para 58), essentially that the database itself was real evidence and the spreadsheets were just ways of making it readable by humans without manipulation or analysis. (There is also much discussion of the business records exception to the hearsay rule, both statutory and at common law. The court held firmly that the records were business records for this purpose.)
Does that sound right to you? At what point does the process of making data meaningful require expertise of a type, or to a degree, that the person producing it should have to be qualified as an expert witness? (cf Pasko v Willis, 2004 ABQB 154 (CanLII) para 10.)
Is this a routine case? Few if any of the cases cited in the decision dealt with the expertise question.
How about the ‘database as real evidence’ argument (so not documentary evidence, so not hearsay – so don’t even need the business records exception… it’s all just mechanically recorded, like the counter in a turnstile as evidence of the number of people who entered an auditorium)?