The mind is the most complex component to the human composition. Where mental health and wellbeing are at risk, or feature in a court case, a solicitor will often require the invaluable assistance of a psychologist or psychiatrist expert witness. However, where their roles share similarities, there can be confusion over which expert witness discipline is best suited to a particular case. As providers of the most targeted expert witness network in the UK, our case managers are dedicated to helping solicitors appoint the best expert witness for their case. With that in mind, we want to share the differences between a psychology expert witness and a psychiatry expert witness.
As a qualified medical doctor, a psychiatrist has dedicated their specialty to the study, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illnesses and disorders. Of over 200 mental illnesses, psychiatrists are able to distinguish their particular manifestations and provide the necessary medical care to support the health and wellbeing of their patients.
When appointed by a solicitor, the psychiatrist expert witness will use their skills to examine the existing evidence and perform psychiatric assessments of the necessary individuals. During these assessments, the psychiatrist expert witness may recognise psychiatric traits that can provide evidence of a specific mental illness and the behavioural manifestations. They are required to document their results in a comprehensive psychiatric report which can be used by the solicitor to form their case and shared with the court.
Dealing with vulnerable individuals, the profound knowledge and clinical experience of a psychiatrist expert witness can be essential for fair trial. For example, if an incorrect diagnosis has been given, or missed entirely, it can be extremely detrimental to a solicitor’s client going into court proceedings since the court cannot make an informed judgement. If necessary, the psychiatry expert witness can assess the individual’s ability to understand and participate in the court proceedings and may be required to produce a Fitness to Plead report as a result. In a criminal defence case, the psychiatrist can give their expert medical opinion with regards to the necessary medical care of the accused. This can include giving their opinion on where the defendant should carry out their sentence – in a conventional prison or psychiatric hospital for instance.
Whilst psychologists do not share the same medical background as psychiatrists, they are similarly integral to a solicitor. A psychologist expert witness will have dedicated their career to understanding the mind, motivations, and manifestations of behavioural disorders, learning disabilities, and mental health problems. In doing so, they may uncover significant evidence that supplied to the solicitor in a detailed psychology report and shared with the court can ensure fair trial ensues and the wellbeing of those involved is considered.
A psychologist expert witness may be appointed in a vast range of cases. For example, in a criminal defence case, an in-depth psychological assessment may enable the psychologist expert witness to understand what motivated the criminal activity and whether the defendant’s actions were as a result of a mental health or behavioural problem, rather than with the intent to cause harm. In a divorce case, the appointed psychologist expert witness may be required to assess the parents to determine their suitability to provide the necessary care for the children.
Within their individual disciplines, psychiatrists and psychologists will have a particular focus in their clinical careers. It is crucial that when a solicitor instructs an expert witness their expertise is relevant to the case. For example, a case involving minors will require a child psychologist expert witness rather than an adult psychologist who is a substance abuse specialist. If the knowledge and experience of the expert witness is not deemed relevant enough you risk their conclusions being challenged or dismissed.
At Foresight Clinical Services, our team of case managers is here to assist you in finding the best-matched expert witness for your case. Get in touch today.