Interview: American Legal and fonts experts corroborate JIT’s claims, label documents ‘forgeries’


Social media went up in flames over the JIT arguing that forgery of documents by the Sharif family had been proven because of the font used in the documents presented to the investigative team. Since then, Pakistan Today has contacted a number of typography experts who have weighed in on the JIT’s argument and have answered questions and counter-arguments being made by the PML-N and their supporters.

The experts have argued that while the Calibri font did indeed exist in 2004 and was released in some beta versions of the Windows operating systems of that time, any government or business using it is a near impossible scenario. They have also stated that while unusual, there is precedent for font change to be used as evidence of forgery in legal cases and it has been argued successfully on multiple occasions. In Pakistan’s scenario, while not binding, this sets a very strong persuasive precedent for the courts to follow.

Typography expert, type desigener, CEO ‘FontLab,’ and font detective on forged documents and other font related legal issues, Thomas Phinney, answered the questions of Pakistan Today  regarding the issue at hand. The typography master gave an intricate statement tracing the origins of the font and the theoretical arguments being presented by the defenders of the ruling party and the logistics and probability of the document’s reality.

Robert Phinney – CEO of ‘FontLab,’ former detective on forged and illegal documents and expert on fonts.

Pakistan Today: When was the Calibri font made available to the general public as a part/update of Windows and/or MS Office.

Thomas Phinney: “Microsoft commissioned Calibri, alongside the rest of the “ClearType Collection” fonts in 2002.  Lucas de Groot was already working on the monospaced typeface Consolas for Microsoft in late 2002, when he was asked to submit a proposal for an additional typeface. Calibri first saw availability outside Microsoft in a Windows beta release on 9 August 2004. This was before Windows Vista had even been named, and was still under the code name Longhorn.”

PT: So what exactly is the likeliness of the Calibri font being used before the official 2007 release date and its commission as the default font of Microsoft Word?

TP: Windows pre-release versions are generally used by programmers and IT professionals to test and develop software. They are not broadly used for general office tasks.

PT: Knowing the context, if a document dated March 2006 is written in the Calibri font, which was launched in 2007, does that mean the document is forged?

TP: It is technically possible that the document could have been created then and used Calibri, just highly unlikely in a typical office context, because the font was only available with a public preview of Windows (and perhaps of Microsoft Office as well by that point). The average user does not install a pre-release operating system, or even a pre-release version of Office.

PT: So in your opinion the document is indeed a forgery?

TP: Again: be aware that pre-release versions of Windows are not generally used for typical office documents; just because it is physically possible that Calibri could be in a random document dated to 2006 does not make it at all likely.

If you have a document:

  • whose authenticity is already in question
  • which was not created by somebody who is a likely Windows pre-release user (not a programmer or the like), nor a hard-core font geek like me
  • and it is then noticed that it used Calibri back in 2006

Then the odds are strong the document is a forgery.

PT: Being an expert on the legal aspects of fonts and their uses who has given testimonies on similar cases, where forgery was caught because of the Times New Roman to Calibri font, what would you say about the legal status of the evidence and its admissibility in court?

TP: “It is unlikely enough that the answer starts to depend on what the legal burden of evidence/proof is in Pakistan (which, if it were like the USA, would depend on the category of case). Most likely, the defense would have to try to explain how and why the document was created with a pre-release operating system, and defend the seeming implausibility of that situation. I gather that this is where things are at in Pakistan right now, that the burden of proof has shifted to the defense.”


PT: How do things work in the United States and what has your experience in the court room been? Are claims of the font not being significant enough to be evidence ridiculous or feasible?

TP: “Certainly in the USA (and I would expect in any country), the question of the font and its availability is legally admissible evidence. There have been many cases in the US that have turned on this question. I can’t see any rational reason that this would be different anywhere else.”


Another font expert, multilingual thinker, and translator, Robert Matthews, also answered Pakistan Today’s questions. He laid down the possibility of the document being printed on a later date. However he too expressed the opinion that this would be a long shot to prove in court saying:

“If the document was written in March, 2006 but it was printed out in 2007 or later, there might not be a problem. Calibri might simply be the default font for printing all documents.

If you wanted to prove forgery, at the very least you would have to show that:(1) [ELECTRONIC VERSION] The file creation date is later than March, 2006 (a computer forensics expert would have to access and examine the original storage medium). (2[ELECTRONIC VERSION] The Calibri font was explicitly embedded in the document (there’s a little-known option to do this in Microsoft Word). (3) [PAPER VERSION] The paper that it is printed on and the ink have been dated to early 2006 (various techniques).”

Overall the experts are in agreement that the argument being presented to defend the PML-N. Even the creator in a separate interview has stated that it is near impossible for the font to have been used before its release date and anyone using it even if it was available is unlikely. Moreover, the confirmation that this is a serious legal issue makes it quite clear that Maryam Nawaz and her family have indeed been pinned for what may seem like a minor detail, but is in fact a serious legal argument.