In criminal court cases, psychiatrists are often called as expert witnesses to give their professional opinions. After learning about the case and observing the defendant, psychiatrists will prepare detailed reports. As an expert witness, psychiatrists are expected to remain independent of any influence. Their opinions must be relevant and understandable for the juries, prosecutor, defendant, and judge.
Psychiatrists are essential in a criminal court case as expert witness for the following reasons:
Provide Mental State Opinion- psychiatrists may determine whether the defendant is fully aware of the consequences of his/her act when the crime is being committed. It’s crucial to know whether the defendant has conscious intent to commit a criminal act. Depending on legal laws, the defendant can be acquitted if the crime is a product of a severe mental disorder. This means, the defendant is fully unaware about the nature of the act, whether it is right or wrong. However, the psychiatrist must also determine whether the defendant is attempting to obscure his/her actual mental state.
Provide Mental Health Diagnosis- psychiatry is a complex field and if the defendant has mental health issues, early diagnosis by an expert is important. During a trial, offenders can be supervised by psychiatrists, nurses, and care workers to ensure their well-being. Regardless of the result of the case, effective treatments are important to predict and prevent future offenses. As a form of risk management, psychiatrists and supporting workers will monitor, supervise, rehabilitate, treat, and provide safe environment for offenders.
Perform Research- if defendants are convicted of criminal offenses, psychiatrists work in prisons to provide psychological assessments and treatment. These convicts could have mental problems, such as low self-esteem, depression, or poor anger management that become contributing factors of their crimes. Any assessment psychiatrists make could become the basis of a study in forensic psychiatry, which will be useful for future criminal cases and lead to more accurate analysis of similar cases.
In the United Kingdom, psychiatrists in the criminal justice system are typically from the NHS. They have the skills and experience to care for offenders who are mentally ill. After offenders are declared as mentally unstable or violent, they could reside and be treated in special hospitals or highly secure medical facilities. There are three of such hospitals in England and another in Scotland. These facilities are Broadmoor Hospital, Rampton Hospital, Nottinghamshire, Ashworth Hospital, Liverpool, and the State Hospital, Carstairs.
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