Forensic Medicine

  1. What is forensic medicine?

Forensic medicine covers doctors working in the following areas: forensic medical practitioners (forensic physicians, sexual assault examiners, adult and child), forensic pathologists, forensic psychiatrist, medical examiners, medico-legal advisers; and medically qualified coroners.

A Forensic Medical Examiner (FME) or forensic physician (FP) or forensic medical officer (FMO) in Northern Ireland provides medical services for police forces. They are not forensic scientists as popularised by CSI programmes. 

  1. Who are their patients – FME ?

The majority of their work covers three groups of patients: detainees (adults or juveniles) who have been arrested on suspicion of committing a criminal offence, victims (of assaults) and police officers or staff. Increasingly sexual assault victims are examined in specialised sexual assault centres (SARCS or HAVENS) and provided by sexual offence examiners (SOEs).

  1. What does an FME do?

A FME will assess detainees for Fitness to be Detained, Interviewed, Charged or Transferred, victims of assaults or police officers for injuries, take forensic samples or blood for road traffic offences. They may have pre-existing illnesses, injuries or medication requirements. A good knowledge of psychiatry and substance abuse management is important as this is prevalent in that population group. The role of a FME is specialised and requires knowledge of medical jurisprudence i.e. of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), detailed knowledge of consent and confidentiality, GDPR etc.

Some examples of the role of a FME are:

  • Fitness to be detained: are there any health issues, medication that is required
  • Fitness to be interviewed: is the person capable of understanding the interview process i.e. affected by alcohol or drugs or has mental health issues
  • Fitness to be charge: is the person capable of understanding the charge
  • Road traffic offences: take blood samples for drink drive offences or examine

someone for a condition that may be caused by drugs or alcohol

  • Assess for learning difficulties, mental health issues and the requirement for a

Mental Health Assessment

  • Forensic samples: taking blood sample for drugs/alcohol or swabs
  • Police officers to state if they are fit to continue working, record any injuries
  • There is also a specialized group who undertake to examine detainees who have

been arrested under the Terrorism Act

  • Provide statements or produce live evidence in court or to a coroner
  • At present many police forces have outsourced the work to private companies with

the exception of Kent and the Metropolitan Police service

For additional information please see the Faculty of Forensic & Legal Medicine website

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