Monday, 22 January 2018

The Psychology of Justice: The Interface Between Psychology & Civil Law

Since the 1970’s, psychologists and psychiatrists have developed their expertise in providing expert witness services in civil claims for personal injury and medical negligence. By doing this, they have helped lawyers and the courts understand more about diagnosis, causation and prognosis. However, the relevance of psychology and psychological medicine has a much wider applicability to the civil justice system. In Tort Law, the focus is on Justice as the goal, ensuring a more fair, equitable, holistic and reliable outcome to a personal injury event. This is in addition to the quantum assessment of damages and attempts to conduct the process efficiently. 

Understanding and measuring ‘justice’ is a challenge due to its complex multi-dimensional nature. Both claimants and defendants of claims need to be assured that medico-legal process goals are balanced fairly with justice goals, making civil claims more ‘just’ and ‘better’, not just faster and cheaper. Increasing attention is now being centred on how psychological and social processes affect civil justice and the way it is carried out in the UK and other countries, both in Europe and North America. Starting at the point of a personal injury event such as a road traffic accident or work accident through to the conclusion of litigation, there are many psycho-social processes involving claimants, lawyers, medical experts, barristers and the judiciary which can affect any one particular case and assessment of damages. The main branches of psychology which are applicable to the medico legal trail.

It is important that both academic and practitioner groups are active in promoting the understanding of the interface between Law (and legal systems) and Psychology in the context of civil cases and litigation, and thereafter to provide education to legal students and practitioners on these issues. This collaboration should inform the scientific, medical and psychological communities on the one hand, and legal communities on the other, and also the public, about current research and practice in the area of science and law. Civil courts admit evidence from health care experts in order to assess injury and determine quantum. It points to a need for Law and Psychology to address the use of science, and both sectors’ narrow constructions of rationality and logicality which can often have the effect of divorcing science and ‘facts’ from their psychological and social context. 

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