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Law and Psychiatry


It follows that when the reader is confronted with, or addresses an apparently ‘mental’ word or phrase, s/he should explicitly consider: ‘Does it come from medicine, or psychology, or from law?’ Since the origin and nature of the term is crucial to effective functioning as a medical expert within a legal context.


Finally, where there is an explicitly ‘moral’ element to a term then it will have its origins in law (unless it originates within ethics or philosophy), since law is inherently normative, or moral in its essence. However, there is subjectivity within medicine, which can lay it open to its constructs having a covert moral component to them.


Methods of inquiry


Psychiatry, also psychology, and law, also differ in their methods of inquiry. Hence, all medicine is investigative in its approach, taking a judgment based upon all of the information available. However weighing some information more heavily in the judgment than others. By contrast, law is both adversarial in its method and restrictive of the information that it allows into that adversarial process; that is, what information is allowed in as ‘evidence’ is restricted for reasons of ‘fairness’. Hence, the psychiatrist will weigh all available data in a ‘hypothesis testing’ manner; whereas law assumes that ‘the truth’ (or at least ‘a truth’) will emerge by setting up opposing restricted data sets and argument against one another and ‘judging’ which of the two sides’ positions is the stronger.


It follows that, in coming to his opinion, a psychiatrist may wish to utilise data which is legally inadmissible. And this confronts him or her with a profound ethical dilemma, by way of there then being a head-on clash of paradigms.


The practical effect of discipline incongruence


As a result of all of these disparities between psychiatry and law, psychiatrists and psychologists appearing in court are likely to feel uncomfortable, since they will both be asked questions within an adversarial mode, yet wish to answer within an investigative mode, and be stopped from doing so. Tey may also wish to rely upon particular data but be told that they may not do so.


Recognising the context is crucial


What is crucial, especially where a word or phrase appears within both medicine, or psychiatry, and law – or where, for example, law adopts ‘mental concepts’ of its own – is that both clinician and lawyer recognise ‘within which discourse’ the term is being used. Tat is, whether it is being used within medicine and is therefore ‘positive’ (referring to something in being) or within law and ‘normative’ (being an artifice and/or evaluative in nature). If both sides fail to recognise the ‘provenance’, or ‘dual provenance’, of the term that is being used then there is room for misapplication of the term within the ‘wrong discourse’, and/or misunderstanding of its meaning, as it is intended to be in any particular discipline.


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