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Psychiatrists acting as expert witnesses – are they confident?

Rohit Gumber (Consultant Intellectual Disability Psychiatrist, based at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, Leicester, UK)
John Devapriam (Consultant Intellectual Disability Psychiatrist, based at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, Leicester, UK)
David Sallah (Professor of Mental Health and the Director of Research, based at Ethics and Consultancy, School of Health, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, UK)
Sayeed Khan (Higher Specialist Trainee in Intellectual Disability Psychiatry, based at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, Leicester, UK)

The Journal of Forensic Practice

ISSN: 2050-8794

Article publication date: 4 November 2014

Abstract

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

Citation

Gumber, R., Devapriam, J., Sallah, D. and Khan, S. (2014), "Psychiatrists acting as expert witnesses – are they confident?", The Journal of Forensic Practice, Vol. 16 No. 4, pp. 304-311. https://doi.org/10.1108/JFP-02-2013-0014

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited