Forensic Psychiatry is a sub-specialty in psychiatry. It deals with the mental health issues of persons who come into contact with law enforcing authorities. Although mental health issues have long been subjected to scrutiny in courts of law, forensic psychiatry has been a relatively new development in the field of mental health.
Forensic psychiatry is practiced by the psychiatrist (doctors who treat mental illness) with special training or interests in psychiatry-legal issues. They may provide their services on behalf of the plantiff, accused or as an independent witness in a criminal case or for either party in a civil case. In these circumstances forensic psychiatrists are considered expert witness as opposed to ordinary witnesses in courts of law (Read More).
The duty of the forensic psychiatrist is to help the courts by providing objective assessment of the mental state of the index person in relation to involved psychiatric legal issues. The commonly encountered such issues are criminal responsibility, fitness to plead, fitness to give evidence in courts, any treatment recommendations for people with dangerous behavior as a result of his or her mental disorder. In this respect, forensic psychiatry has it's main obligations towards the court of law rather than to the patient or to the client. This leads to complex series of ethical dilemmas which need careful attention if the rights of both the patient and the society is to be ensured.
In relation to criminal cases, forensic psychiatry plays an important role by engaging in risk assessment and risk management in potentially dangerous psychiatric patients. That is, the expert witness advice the court how dangerous it would be to release the particular patient back in to community and what measures would suffice to reduce or minimize the risk involved.
The civilian cases that might involve are testamentary capacity, parental capacity and compensation issues etc.
The practice of forensic psychiatry has important differences in different parts of the world. For example, forensic psychiatrists in United States do not treat the patients they assess. This is to avoid any potential bias in their assessments that could arise from their doctor patient relationship. However, in many other countries, including United Kingdom, forensic psychiatrists do treat their patients.
The forensic psychiatrists have to work under time pressure from courts. They may have to prepare long detailed reports with regard to the mental state of the person involved or give oral evidence for hours with immense pressure from attorneys. However, he or she plays a vital role in ensuring the rights of the mentally ill while minimizing the risk to community by mentally ill offenders. Read more information here.