Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

Forensic Evaluations in Psychiatry

Academic journal article Indian Journal of Psychiatry

Forensic Evaluations in Psychiatry

Article excerpt

Byline: R. Chadda

Forensic psychiatry is an important subspecialty of psychiatry. Forensic psychiatrists play an important role in the society in assisting the judiciary in many complicated cases. In India, forensic psychiatry work is undertaken mostly by the general psychiatrists. Forensic psychiatric assessments are often associated with an element of anxiety or fear for a young psychiatrist. The present paper aims at familiarizing the readers with forensic evaluation in various situations so that they are able to carry out the assessments in real-life situations comfortably. Various steps of forensic assessment in different situations are discussed in the background of real-life cases. Assessment areas include criminal responsibility, fitness to plead, issue of guardianship, assessment of mental status, testamentary capacity and others. The paper gives some general guidelines on forensic psychiatric assessment in practical situations in our country. The readers are advised to refer to the standard textbooks and the Indian law for further details.

Introduction

Forensic evaluation is an essential part of psychiatric practice. In India, there is no separate specialization available in forensic psychiatry as in the West and general psychiatrists are often requested to conduct the forensic evaluations. This paper discusses principles and common procedures to be followed in forensic assessments. The basic purpose of this paper is to sensitize the readers with forensic assessment in real-life situations, so that they are able to assess the common psychiatric referrals from the court for forensic assessments, and confidently prepare the report and appear in the court for related evidence. The paper also discusses the related issues of ethics and confidentiality.

Common reasons for forensic psychiatry evaluations

Various reasons for forensic psychiatric evaluation can be broadly grouped under criminal and civil groups. A criminal court may issue directions to assess the fitness of a person to plead or stand trial or to determine the issue of criminal responsibility. The civil court may ask for psychiatric assessment in cases of determination of need for guardianship, to know whether a person with mental illness is able to take care of self and manage his/her affairs or needs a guardian or a manager. Cases of testamentary capacity, marital dispute and divorce on grounds of mental illness, child custody and disability compensation are some other situations where a psychiatrist may be asked by a court to give a report. Sometimes, the psychiatrist may receive a request from an employer asking for opinion about the mental condition of an employee and his/her fitness to continue in the job. An analysis of requests received at a teaching neuropsychiatric hospital from the court or employers for psychiatric assessment by a board of psychiatrists over a period of 18 months found that 57% of the requests referred to psychiatric evaluation for assessment of the mental condition and fitness to stand trial. Twenty-eight percent of the requests referred to the issue of guardianship. Fourteen percent of the requests referred to invalidation from service on grounds of mental illness. [sup][1]

Some examples of the real-life questions taken from the court orders to a hospital regarding psychiatric assessment of an accused person are given in verbatim as under:

*Whether the accused is suffering from a mental disorder; if yes, what is the nature of mental disorder? *Whether the accused is of unsound mind? Whether he can understand the proceedings of the court and stand trial? *Whether the accused was mentally ill to the extent that it led to murder? *Whether the said person is capable of taking care of his person and managing his affairs? *Whether the said person suffers from a mental disorder of severity to make him incapable of leading a normal family life? *Whether the said person is incapable of taking care of self and of managing his property? …

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