Psychiatrists acting as expert witnesses – Are they confident?
Rohit Gumber, John Devapriam, David Sallah, Sayeed Khan
The Journal of Forensic Practice
The aim of this survey was 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 wellbeing Trust.
This was completed through an online survey, developed by the authors, of all career grade and trainee psychiatrists within the Trust.
Only 9% 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% 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.
Doctors need to be offered formal training opportunities including simulated training, ideally organised within Trust 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.
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.