What is a court report?: forensic psychology
What is a court report
A court report is a document that is produced by a Forensic Psychologist which is designed to provide their expert opinion on a certain matter and provide recommendations to the court. This article is based on the judicial system at work in the United Kingdom, please be aware that things may be different in other countries.
In order to be able to work as an expert witness and provide court reports you are required to be a chartered forensic psychologist, registered with the BPS, in posession of suitable public liability insurance and an expert in a certain field or area of research / study. I have gathered the following information from a chartered forensic psychologist who has many years experience working as an expert witness and providing court reports.
Who usually employs the Psychologist?
Typically Forensic Psychologists work in the Civil arena, this area provides the most work and the highest paid, whereas work in the criminal field is less well paid.
How much can you make per report?
A report for the prosecution is less well paid than for the defence, for the prosecution a psychologist would typically be paid between £800 - £3,000. A report for the defence would be worth significantly more. A typical full report would take approximately 1-2 months to produce. In addition to the above if an appearance at court is required, a psychologist can expect to receive £500 per day at court. This money is paid regardless of whether the psychologist is actually called upon to speak in court that day.
Guidance on writing a court report
A court report can be required to provide an expert opinion on a number of different things. There is a significant amount of work available in family courts where a court report may be required to give advice as to whether it would be appropriate to return children deemed at-risk to their parents, and to advise as to whether any interventions are required. There are many importance consequences that may occur as a result of the information contained within the report, it is therefore extreemly important that the psychologist abide by all appropriate and reevant professional guidelines to avoid charges of negligence.
The psychologist must always remember to act impartially, regardless of who has employed them. They are not a 'a hired gun' for either the prosecution or the defence. All judgements and opinions they provide must be based in fact and solid academic research. As an expert witness they are unique in the court room in that they are allowed to voice their opinion (rather than just the facts). However, this opinion must be backed up by research that they can quote. It is important for the psychologist to be up-to-date with the literature available on the subject and thoroughly conversant in it. It wouldn't look good in court if the lawyers for the other side were able to demonstrate that there were studies or theories that they were unfamilir with.
Structure of a court report?
The structure of the court report is important. The following steps offer an outline of how the report should be structured and what information it should include.
- The first paragraph should introduce the psychologist and outline their qualifictions and relevant training, experience, professional membership etc.
- The second section should outline who has ordered this report and for what purpose.
- The third section should list the sources of information the psychologist has drawn from, this will include the letter of instruction, the case history, interviews with the individuals concered or their caregivers and any psychometric tests consulted.
- The fourth section is where the main body of the report begins. It is up to the individual psychologist how this is structured and may be guided by the points raised in the instruction letter from the lawyer. This section should usually provide a summary of the case history, a forensic assesment and a discussion of the psychometric test results.
- The final section provides the psychologists conclusions and recommendations. Again, these must be based in fact and supported by research or the psychometric test results.
- Finally the report is closed with an oath.
Things to remember:
- The first thing to remember is that each and every paragraph must be uniquely numbered to allow for easy reference in court.
- All language must be clear and free from unnecessary psychobabble
- Opinions are allowed but ONLY if they are backed up with fact and academic research
- The Psychologist must work independently and not on behalf of a particular side, regardless of who hired them.