This Page Intentionally Left Blank

The article title is precisely what used to appear on the pages of documents, in circumstance where a page was literally – left blank. This could have been because of chapter formatting, or to aid clarity in the reading. Who knows. I do know at one time, it was a favourite technique of large organisations such as IBM, usually within their voluminous and often extremely dry technical manuals.

It may be an urban myth but I once heard of a court case lost in the USA where the defendants attorneys were unable to prove what was on the reverse side of a page within a contract document. The story goes that there was a whole paragraph un-scanned because it was the only page of the document where text fell on the reverse of the page. As the ‘missing part’ was key to the court case, and related to contract termination, one party insisted a contract term was valid, and the other said they would never have agreed to it. Because it could not be proven that the contract termination wording was physically present on the reverse side – the judge ruled for dismissal.

To my way of thinking, there are several issues here. To use the catchphrase from the TV series ‘Through the Keyhole’ – ‘Let’s look at the evidence.

First, the contract document itself. In the UK, the original (executed) contract document must be retained in-perpetuity. This is to allow the self-obvious step of being able to review the original document as ‘best evidence’. For a contract, a scanned image or microfilm copy is not ‘best evidence’.

Second, I find it highly unlikely that any contract would not be page numbered. It would be highly remiss of a contract engineer to not number the pages. This leads me to think that either the document presented in court was not the final executed (i.e. signed) version of the contract, or if it was, page numbers had been removed. (Unlikely, but possible, even with PDF versions of documents.) Or the entire story could have been made up!

Prevention is so much better than cure, so when agreeing an SLA with a document capture contractor, consider the following:

  • Paying to have blank pages scanned, can be much less costly in the long run. Capture bureau will typically scan all pages on their high-speed duplex (both sides) production scanner, and then delete the ‘blank’ pages by assessing the file sizes. But …. the inclusion of a tiny page number may still mean a page falls below the file size threshold and as a consequence, is deleted. Keeping those ‘blank’ pages can make a world of difference evidence-wise.
  • Retaining the original scanned images straight from the scanner, and prior to their quality checking, purging, and possible recombination into a PDF, may also start to make a lot of sense. Standard everyday documents such as invoices, may, (or at least – should,) not come under this depth of scrutiny in a court, so a risk assessment should be performed on each document type in relation to whether, (or not) the reverse side of pages are also scanned. There is of course, a cost consideration in both scanning and retaining the original images, but with hard-drive storage costing pennies for Terabytes, it may be worth the effort in the long run.

Insurance is only ever expensive – when you do not have it! A penny spent on blank page scanning might just save your bacon in years to come.

The author is an Information Management Consultant based in Scotland with many years (decades even) of experience. He is MD of Intelligen, and is involved in the assessment and implementation of large DM systems and their data/document migration.

John is also the Sub-Editor of Information Management publication IDMi, which has been informing people about the sector since 1969

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