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Psychologist as an Expert Witness in the Criminal Courts

NCJ Number
Australian Psychologist Volume: 12 Issue: 2 Dated: (July 1977) Pages: 133-150
A A Bartholomew; P Badger; K L Milte
Date Published
18 pages
Psychologists and psychiatrists have been playing the role of expert witness in criminal courts for over 50 years, but that role is still evolving in Australia and needs ongoing clarification.
The psychiatrist's role is more respected by the courts, as psychiatrists are 'doctors' and give opinions based on ther generally understood medical model. The clinical psychologist is still fighting for recognition and must be careful to select solidly supported testing techniques, objective analyses of data, and multiple judges for examining test data, and avoid psychodynamics, hypothetical questions, and items taken out of context. The psychologist tends to offer objective test results to support the psychiatrist's clinical opinion based on history, physical examination, and clinical interview. In this respect, there is a notion that nonmedical persons (viz., psychologists) may not offer the opinion that the defendant suffered from a particular disease but that they may offer the opinion that the test results are in agreement with test results obtained from a population of patients diagnosed as suffering from a particular condition. Yet, psychologists appear more and mnore to base their evidence and their opinions on clinical interviews, so that distinguishing psychologists from psychiatrists becomes difficult. Psychologists need not necessarily take a history; simple testing to elucidate a point would have a greater credibility. If the psychologist continues to conduct clinical interviews, the courts will need to clarify the difference. As areas of distinction and similarity between the two professions become ever more complex, they become less understandable to the laity and the degree of expertness is less easily testable in the courts. Overall, regular forensic psychologists must together work out their proper role and clarify it to the public and the courts. About 70 references are provided.


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