Doctors as Witness in Courts

Doctors as Witness in Courts

Have you no wish for others to be saved? Then you're not saved yourself, be sure of that!
― Charles Haddon Spurgeon[1]

A Court summon often acts as a shock, particularly to those not directly related to the criminal justice system, not only to an average layman, but also to those whose expertise is required by the Court in deciding a matter at hand. Doctors constitute of one such class of expert witnesses.

In our country, in general practice, it has been seen that the doctors are generally afraid to testify in the courts. This is mainly because of two reasons: one that they are not familiar with the legal procedures and two because they are lengthy and confusing cross-examination. As a result, many a times such medical expert visits the Court with an attitude of simply testifying in the courtroom and then gets done with it, no matter what direction justice takes. Such behaviour is rather cold, i.e. to finish the testimony and go back, irrespective of the outcome. That may lead the direction of the matter at hand in the Court in very uncertain territories. The beneficiaries in such cases are often the culprits who have to be acquitted because of lack of evidence.

In case of potential possible conflict of interest, for instance, in cases where such medical professional has also been professionally or personally involved or has any personal interest in the case, such medical professional when acting under the capacity of an expert evidence, must make the Court aware of this without delay by following the process for communicating with such Court. A medical professional can function as an expert witness only if the court decides the conflict of interest will not affect the case.

Over and above, they can also seek an expert opinion as a defence in the Court of law. So in order to let the justice to prevail, the law requires the support of the medical experts. The knowledge, skill, education, experience and training that the experts in the medical profession, doctors undergo, is important to make them more competent while testifying in the court.

Expert evidence is one of the vital parts of any medico-legal case.  It cannot be expected from judges to be expert in aspects of the case at hand that deals with technical nuances. Hence, in order to deliver true justice, ready and quick help has to be provided to the Court. The fate of the case often relies on such expertise and often miscarriage of justice is a consequence of lack of evidence.

Expert evidence is also recognised under section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act of 1872[2]which reads as:

When the Court has to form an opinion upon a point of foreign law or of science, or art, or as to identity of handwriting, or finger impressions, the opinions upon that point of persons especially skilled in such foreign law, science or art, or in questions as to identity of handwriting or finger impressions are relevant facts. Such persons are called experts.”

The purpose of having a medical expert in the Court upon a case is not to persuade the Court to tilt the balance the fluctuating fortunes of justice to either side, but to help the Court to decipher and deconstruct complex technical terms of medical science and ease the understanding of the Court in such technical matters. A medical expert it expected to prepare written statements and written reports, and can use some visual aids to explain required theories along with providing expert testimony before the court. Such interpretations provided by an expert must not misleading or ambiguous, and any abbreviations and technical terminologies that are involved are explained.

They are only required to state or validate facts, and not to prove or disapprove the guilt of any party. It was also held by Gujarat High Court in the seminal judgement of Bhanda Garhv. State of Assam (1983) that though the evidence of an expert is relevant under section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872[3] but by virtue of section 4 of the Act, the opinion has to be stated as a witness in the Court[4].

Further, in the landmark judgment of State of Himachal Pradesh  v. Jai Lal and Ors (1999) where the honourable Supreme Court elaborates on the expert evidence and observes that, “Section 45 of the Evidence Act which makes opinion of experts admissible lays down that when the Court has to form an opinion upon a point of foreign law, or of science, or art, or as to identity of handwriting or finger impressions, the opinions upon that point of persons specially skilled in such foreign law, science or art, or in questions as to identify of handwriting, or finger impressions are relevant facts. Therefore, in order to bring the evidence of a witness as that of an expert it has to be shown that he has made a special study of the subject or acquired a special experience therein or in other words that he is skilled and has adequate knowledge of the subject.[5]

But being a medical expert witness for the Court is not an easy task. Owing to the manner and the rate at which the criminal justice system operates, it is relatively easier to figure out the amount of time that is consumed in this process. The doctors must, however, understand the importance of their presence and their expert opinion required. The Courts recently, have been very receptive and supportive of their plight and recently A.S. Jayachandra, district and sessions judge, Shahdara[6] issued a circular directing all subordinate judicial officers to consider the day’s roaster before issuing summon in order to minimized wastage of time.

Both the justice system and the experts of the medical profession have to come together in order to find common ground for law. The justice system has to understand the psychology and the working of the experts that hail from the non-legal background On the other hand legal professionals must be careful and supportive and make sure the procedure of taking witness and examinations is completed as soon as possible. Fear must not be a reason for a common man to suffer and injustice to prevail.

[1], August 19 2018 20: 41 IST.
[2], August 19 2018 23: 51 IST.
[3] ibid,1.
[4], August 20 2018 00: 19 IST.
[5], August 20 2018 01: 23 IST.
[6], August 20 2018 03: 05 IST.
(Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is given only to provide helpful information and understanding on the subject/topic of law discussed. The contents of this article are not the views of Amie Legal and Amie Legal does not take any responsibility or liability for the opinions expressed by the Author herein.)  
Expert evidence
Expert witnesses
Indian Evidence Act

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