The psychiatric expert is one of the most commonly instructed professions when seeking expert witness testimony.
As a psychiatric expert, you are often called to give evidence in criminal proceedings, civil proceedings and family proceedings. There are actually very few proceedings that will not require an expert psychiatrist at some stage so it can be a busy and varied job. Expert witness psychiatrists are more in demand in some cases than others but there is a consistent demand for experts in this field. If you have the right experience, expertise and skills then it can be a great career move.
Different types of psychiatrists
In the UK, most psychiatrists sub-specialise in an area of psychiatry. The Royal College of Psychiatrists, of which consultant psychiatrists are members or fellows, recognise the following sub-specialities:
Can any psychiatrists be an expert witness?
All psychiatrists may choose to undertake work as an expert witness psychiatrist, but the sub-speciality, which is perhaps the most represented amongst the body of expert witness psychiatrists in the UK is forensic psychiatry.
Whether or not you can find work as an expert witness depends largely on the case. In some cases, only a certain type of psychiatrist will do. For example, the young adolescent who is charged with a serious criminal offence will require an adolescent psychiatrist, not a general adult psychiatrist. Equally, in cases where dementia or cognitive decline is in question, you will require the expertise of an old age psychiatrist or a neuropsychiatrist.
The training for forensic psychiatry gives psychiatrists specialist knowledge of assessing individuals who are charged with criminal offences. Forensic psychiatrists acquire skills in writing comprehensive and well-constructed reports. Whilst forensic training is not a prerequisite to acting as an expert witness in other types of legal proceedings, the rigorous training in forensic psychiatry often means that forensic psychiatrists are well placed to undertake other assessments in other legal proceedings.
Expert witness competency
Above all, it is important that psychiatry experts acquire the relevant competency if they intend to give expert testimony. Being suitably qualified and competent to do the job is not, of course, unique to expert witness testimony. It is a value that all professions should uphold. When looking to instruct an expert witness in psychiatry, is important to ensure that they have the relevant experience to help with your case. Also, look for other measures of expertise such as expert witness training by accredited bodies such as Bond Solon.
Our experts all have clinical experience. Giving expert testimony, is one part, albeit a significant part, of their working careers. All our experts are motivated to undertake medico-legal work and find this part of their job rewarding and engaging. Dedicating time to expert witness work is of course important. All our experts ring-fence time in their working week to give dedicated time to their medico-legal practice.
The caseload of a psychiatric expert witness
The work of psychiatric expert witnesses is varied. It requires experts to work to changing timescales and often, tight deadlines. Although some areas of medico-legal practice lend themselves to a traditional model of assessment (for example, a claimant in a personal injury proceedings who may attend the doctor’s outpatient clinic for assessment), the majority of our work sees our experts going out to undertake the assessments, and to attend courts and tribunals to give medical evidence. To be an effective expert witness, one must have good time management skills. Being able to handle precious interview time—particularly when an assessment is required in an institution such as a prison, and immigration removal centre or a healthcare setting—is key.
What skills does a good psychiatric expert witness need?
To achieve the best outcome from an assessment, expert witnesses need to be able to communicate confidently, competently and compassionately. Unless the expert can put the interviewee at ease and to establish a rapport within the first few minutes, the task of undertaking the thorough assessment—which is required to underpin expert witness testimony—will be frustrated. Being able to plan carefully to ensure that all the relevant information is considered during the interview session takes skill and experience. Add to this further challenges such as having to conduct an interview through an interpreter or having to conduct the interview with a distressed or agitated interviewee, then it becomes even more crucial that you look for an experienced and well-respected expert.
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Building good working relationships
Achieving good expert witness testimony is not just dependent on the experienced expert. It is also reliant on good working relationships. Solicitors, barristers and other professionals such as the police are time-pressured and usually have the unenviable task of coordinating evidence alongside competing demands on their time. It is important that professionals can trust the organisation from which the expert testimony is sought. Expect clear communication from your expert witness case handler, expect good adherence to timescales and above all, expect that the case handler will be helpful, approachable and flexible to your needs.
Work with us as an expert witness psychiatrist
At Expert Court Reports, we provide expert witness testimony for a wide range of legal settings. Further information on the areas we specialise in can be found here. We are always interested to hear from experienced and passionate experts who wish to join our growing body of experts.