Went to a seminar on Friday. The chair of a panel about Expert Witnesses was President of the ‘College of Legal Medicine’ and was proud of the name, although as someone pointed out to me, “You couldn’t have a College of Illegal Medicine!!”. He made a couple of extraordinary statements. He said he not only does not read any of the documentation before the interview and examination (he’s a neurologist) but he doesn’t even read the letter of instruction until afterwards, the other thing he said that was confusing was that when you give an opinion you are expressing a bias? go figure. He said that if he had any issues arising from reading the documentation he would call the person back.
As one of the panel said,’Ithink I have the intellectual capacity to read what someone else has read without necessarily having to agree with it’. The lawyer on the panel was horrified,’you have no idea how much time we spend on those letters of instruction and how critical that you answer the questions we ask’. The judge said he thought he was trying to be ‘provocative’.
I asked a question, prefacing my question by telling him I thought his opinion was very’idiosyncratic’. He seemed quite pleased being called idiosyncratic so I told him’be in no doubt that I mean it in the most negative sense of the word’. Well, there you are, poor students, poor claimants.
Anyway it reminded me of my early days of being an expert witness, who can we learn from and how do we pick the idiots. I was called to give evidence about a police officer who had been assaulted during his work and concussed. Later that day whilst intoxicated he had driven his car in a rampage around a car park smashing six other vehicles. In the course of my evidence I used the term “diminished responsibility”. There was an immediate uproar and the court was adjourned, the judge instructed the barrister for the defendant to find out from me what on earth I meant. I was embarrassed and bewildered. During the break, two very experienced psychiatrists told me, in effect, I was an idiot and way out of my depth. I could only agree with them. They made it clear that my use of the term “diminished responsibility” raised many issues and didn’t I know that “it is not a defence in Victoria”. Well I didn’t, but I was determined to learn something from this debacle, particularly because the defendant was found guilty and served 18 months.
At that time, and the situation has not changed, there was no formal training program in forensic psychiatry, particularly in the civil area. Essentially one had to learn by doing and learn by one’s mistakes. I want this to change, I hope this website helps.