I was hot tubbing again on Friday. I think this is my fifth time in the hot tub. The first, a total fiasco, was at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. There were four psychiatrists who turned up, one by telephone from another state. We were told that we would each give evidence and we would then have an opportunity to cross-examine each other. The first psychiatrist, a distinguished professor requested leave as he had more important things to do and was allowed to leave. The next, a psychiatrist from the country then gave evidence and again requested leave on the basis that she had a clinic to manage in her country town and she was also allowed to leave. Neither could be cross-examined. I was then called up and protested against the lack of opportunity to deal with the evidence of the first to psychiatrists. I gave my evidence and was then vigourously cross-examined by the interstate psychiatrist. I again protested against what seemed to me manifest unfairness in being the only one cross-examined as the interstate psychiatrist then gave his evidence but then had to go elsewhere. The chair seem to acknowledge this but nevertheless the farce continued. I was left feeling very disillusioned. The second time involved another AAT hearing. This time the other psychiatrist was a young, very knowledgeable and skilled witness who was impressive. We had an interesting dialogue discussing the issues we agreed with and the issues where we differed. It was a very satisfying experience. The tribunal seem to appreciate it. The third was a teleconference with a Sydney psychiatrist, thought to be something of a gun for hire who wanted to debate the issues over the phone. I decided to take charge of the dialogue and made it clear that we were not there to debate anything. We were try to sort out those areas where we agreed and those where we disagreed. The matter was dispatched within about half an hour, I thought quite satisfactorily. Subsequently I wrote a letter, sending a draft to the other psychiatrist who agreed with it and we jointly signed the draft and it was dispatched to the judge.
On this occasion I was given a subpoena to appear in the Sydney Supreme Court. I had a brief discussion with the barrister who gave me some gratuitous advice. He urged me not to fold under pressure, thanks a lot for that advice, I’ve been a witness before. This was a very large courtroom with a very long witness table that comfortably accommodated the three of us. Two of us had seen the claimant for his solicitor and the other had seen the claimant on two occasions for the defendant. The judge started off by asking each of us to give our opinion about the diagnosis and the reasons for that opinion. I was surprised that the psychiatrist who appeared on behalf of the defendant made it clear at the start that all forensic psychiatrist were basically guns for hire and I thought his evidence went downhill from there. All of us know each other so at the morning tea break we shared a cup of coffee and later shared lunch. Matters heated up in the afternoon when all of us were cross-examined, not least by the judge. All of us had made mistakes in our reports that were brought out during the course of the day. One of us took his mistakes on the chin and did not attempt to dissemble or argue. I thought that went well. The other did the reverse and got deeper and deeper into doodoo. He was also challenged because he had seen this man on two occasions with a 13 year interval and said he was unchanged but despite that had changed his diagnosis. He found it very difficult to deal with the challenge that evoked. I was pleased that we were able to remain friendly and there were no personalities bought into our confrontations with each other. I was left feeling satisfied that all of us had had an adequate opportunity to express our thoughts and opinions and to deal with challenges that arose face-to-face rather than in the usual vacuum one experiences as a solitary witness. The experience confirms to me that to be a good witness one has to have a number of qualities including a comprehensive, well argued report and opinion, a readiness to deal with whatever facts are presented, or assumptions. A willingness to actively defend your opinion without being an advocate for the claimant or the defendant and a professional attitude towards the inevitable disputes that occur. As always there were things for me to learn.