Psychiatrists acting as expert witnesses – are they confident?

Publication Date04 Nov 2014
AuthorRohit Gumber,John Devapriam,David Sallah,Sayeed Khan
SubjectHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Forensic practice
Psychiatrists acting as expert
witnesses – are they confident?
Rohit Gumber, John Devapriam, David Sallah and Sayeed Khan
Dr Rohit Gumber and
Dr John Devapriam are
Consultant Intellectual
Disability Psychiatrists, both
are based at Leicestershire
Partnership NHS Trust,
Leicester, UK.
David Sallah is a Professor of
Mental Health and the Director
of Research, based at Ethics
and Consultancy, School of
Health, University of
Wolverhampton, UK.
Dr Sayeed Khan is a Higher
Specialist Trainee in Intellectual
Disability Psychiatry, based at
Leicestershire Partnership
NHS Trust, Leicester, UK.
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to ascertain the current competencies and training needs for being
an expert witness of trainees (CT3, ST4-6) and career grade psychiatrists (consultants and staff grade,
associate specialist and specialty doctors) in a UK health and well-being Trust.
Design/methodology/approach – This was completed through an online survey, developed by the
authors, of all career grade and trainee psychiatrists within the Trust.
Findings – Only 9 per cent of respondents reported that they felt they had adequate training to feel
competent as an expert witness. Despite low levels of training and confidence, 73 per cent of respondents
had written an expert report. As well as shortage of training opportunities for psychiatrics acting as
expert witnesses, the findings indicated increasing fear of litigation and lack of direct experience of court
proceedings during training.
Practical implications – Doctors need to be offered formal training opportunities including simulated
training, ideally organised within Trust, Continuing Professional Development (CPD) committees or
Education committees. Implementation of the RCPsych report guidance into speciality curricula and CPD
opportunities for doctors would ensure a robust curriculum-based delivery of these essential skills.
Originality/value – A wealth of guidance is available for expert witnesses, but no previous study had
identified the specific training issues and overall confidence in competency to act as an expert witness
amongst psychiatrists. It will be valuable to all psychiatrists involved in court work and organisations
involved in training psychiatrists, especially in light of recent relevant court cases and removal of expert
witness immunity.
Keywords Training, Psychiatry, Court, Expert witness, Medicolegal, Career grade psychiatrists,
UK health and well-being Trust
Paper type Research paper
An expert witness is qualified by his or her knowledge or experience to give an opinion on a
particular issue(s) to a court. The role of the expert doctor is to provide an opinion based on
his or her technical knowledge and opinion and assist the court in deciding the matter before it.
This requires more than the qualities and skills of a competent clinician; an expert witness
requires the ability to communicate the findings and opinions clearly, concisely and in a form
acceptable to the courts, with a clear understanding of the duties and responsibilities put
upon them (British Medical Association (BMA), 2007).
The role of today’sexpert witness can be tracked back to the late eighteenth century when the
following judgement was made: “The opinion of men upon proven facts may be given by men
of science within their own science”. Further milestone cases highlighted the importance of
adequate skill, opinions being based on facts, and of an unbiased opinion, as well as other
duties and responsibilities (Rix, 1999). Best practice in this area today is informed by a number
of national sources, including guidelines issued by Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych)
(2008), the General Medical Council (GMC) (2008), the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and
PAGE 304
VOL. 16 NO. 4 2014, pp. 304-311, CEmerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 2050-8794 DOI 10.1108/JFP-02-2013-0014

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