Forensic Psychiatry

Forensic psychiatry is a medical specialty that provides assistance to the criminal courts when issues arise as to the mental state of defendants, witnesses and complainants. It is not to be confused with forensic psychology and it is far removed from television’s Cracker.

A forensic psychiatrist is a doctor who has spent four or five years at medical school in order to obtain their registrable medical qualifications, who has spent a year or two working as a foundation doctor in a range of hospital specialties and who has then gone on to undertake usually three years of general professional training in psychiatry and then a further three or of four years in specialty training in forensic psychiatry. Most forensic psychiatrists have clinical responsibility for the care of mentally disordered offenders in the community, in local psychiatric hospitals, in regional or sub-regional medium secure units or in high secure hospitals, specifically Broadmoor, Park Lane, Rampton and Carstairs Hospitals. With this clinical experience, they can assist the courts on issues such as fitness to be interviewed by the police and the reliability of confessions; fitness to plead; fitness to stand trial; mental condition defences and partial defences such as manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility, insanity, automatism and intent; the effect of mental disorder on the reliability of witnesses and complainants; and the sentencing of people with a mental disorder where often there are concerns about risk to the safety of the general public. They also assist in a wide range of types of civil litigation and issues arising within mental health law.

There are similarities between the forensic psychiatric investigation of a person involved in criminal proceedings and other forms of forensic investigation. Forensic psychiatrists therefore benefit from sharing knowledge and experience with other forensic practitioners. All forensic practitioners need to have a good understand the criminal justice processes and the criminal justice system, the law of evidence, as well as gaining an understanding of the law relevant to any case in which they may become involved. They must also have an understanding of the ethical underpinnings of practice as an expert witness.

Forensic psychiatrists will often give evidence with other specialist contributing as appropriate such neuropsychiatrists, neurologists and epilepsy experts, old age psychiatrists, and child and family psychiatrists,  forensic psychologists and neuropsychologists. Some aspects include fitness to plead and stand trial, automatism, cognitive disorder, intellectual disability, or the analysis of witness testimony

As regards Cracker, who dramatically solves crimes by the application of the process of criminal profiling, this is not a process in which all but a handful of forensic psychiatrists have training or experience.  

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