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Handbook of Forensic Psychiatric Practice in Capital Cases


If a doctor prepares a written report for court proceedings, then there is an obligation on them to attend the subsequent court hearing if requested to do so, whether by the court or by a legal representative in the case. Tis is potentially a daunting prospect and careful preparation will be needed.


Tis chapter describes how to prepare to give oral evidence in court and the process of giving evidence.


Timing Court hearings are usually, although not always, planned weeks, sometimes months, in advance. Dates are hard to change once fixed and so it is important that, after a written report is prepared, the doctor communicates dates when they cannot attend court – especially holiday dates – to the legal representatives who have instructed them. If the court chooses to go ahead regardless and sit on a day when you have said you cannot attend, then there are firm grounds to try to refuse. In the last instance, a witness summons can be issued to compel a doctor, like any other witness, to attend; but, at the very least, if proper notice has been given by the doctor that he is unavailable, expenses will need to be paid, even if this involves a return air fare from a holiday resort.


In the UK, the Criminal Justice Council Experts Protocol (June 2005) makes it clear that those instructing experts have an obligation to take all reasonable steps to ascertain the availability of experts before trial dates are fixed, and to keep experts updated with the timetable of a hearing.


Preparation


Check, and double check, the practical arrangements for the day you are due to attend court, for example the address of the court and the time of the hearing.


Giving expert evidence should not be the first time you attend a court. If you have never had an opportunity to shadow another expert, then it should at least be possible to sit in the public gallery and watch proceedings. By doing so you can gain some familiarity with the layout of the court, the ‘roles that people play’ during a hearing and, perhaps most importantly, the atmosphere and tone of a court hearing.


Attending court to give evidence for the first time in a capital case should be avoided by not accepting instructions in the first instance without adequate experience, unless the doctor already has substantial experience of giving evidence in other types of major and contested trials, ideally in homicide trials.


Your written report is the basis of your oral evidence, and should have been written in the knowledge that every phrase and word written is open to scrutiny and cross examination. Hence, good oral evidence relies upon provision of a good report. To some degree the quality of your report will dictate whether you need to go to court at all; the expression of a clear and reasoned conclusion, which takes into account all the material you have been presented with, and which adequately addresses any opposing view, is likely to reduce the chances of having to give oral evidence. However, in some cases attendance at court will still be required, particularly if more than one expert has been instructed and the experts


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