Medico-Legal Reports and attending Court

Guidelines on providing Medico-Legal Reports and attending Court as a Witness

  1. A General Practitioner preparing a medico/legal report, at the request of a patient’s solicitor, should bear in mind that they may be called to give evidence, on oath, as to the contents of that report.
  2. General Practitioners should bear in mind the requirements of the Medical Council Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics which states that: “Reports must be relevant, factual and true. Their content must not be influenced by financial or other inducements or pressures”
  3. The Medical Council advises that where a practitioner is asked to conduct examinations where results are to be communicated to third parties such as insurance companies or legal representatives, practitioners should explain to the patient prior to the examination, the nature of it and its purpose. Practitioners are further advised to conduct these examinations and prepare the reports to the same standard of professionalism as applies to the care and treatment of any other patient.
  4. Reports should be specific to the episode for which the report has been requested and should not be prepared or delivered without the patient’s permission. Where the report relates to the patient’s current state of health, the Medical Council Guide encourages practitioners to carry out an up-to-date examination where appropriate.
  5. The Medical Council Guide also requires that practitioners should supply reports requested without unreasonable delay to ensure that no disadvantage accrues to patients.
  6. Practitioners are entitled to request a professional fee for providing a report. The time and manner of such payments is generally a matter of contract between the individual practitioner and the person or agency requesting the report. However the Medical Council Guide advises that practitioners must not negotiate a fee based on the outcome of litigation.
  7. A General Practitioner may attend to give evidence in Court on oath of the matters referred to in the medical report at the request of the patient’s solicitor. If a party other than the patient’s solicitor seeks Court attendance of the doctor, the doctor should insist upon service of a Subpoena or Summons to Witness and may only release medicals or discuss the case with such parties, in circumstances where the doctor has received his or her patient’s written consent to do so.
  8. A General Practitioner attending Court to give evidence on behalf of his or her patient should fully review his or her notes and any medical reports which he or she has prepared on behalf of the patient, prior to Court attendance.
  9. A General Practitioner giving evidence in Court should answer the direct questions raised by the Barrister or Solicitor representing his or her patient and may also be subjected to cross-examination by the Barrister or Solicitor representing the other party to the litigation.
  10. If the doctor is asked a question on either examination in chief or cross-examination during the course of a Trial of an action, to which the doctor does not know the answer, it is perfectly reasonable for the doctor to simply state that he does not know, and, in such circumstances, it is inadvisable for the doctor to attempt to answer a question which may be outside his or her area of expertise or knowledge.
  11. The General Practitioner may refer to the contemporaneous notes which he or she made at the time of the patient’s attendance and with the leave of the Court.
  12. The General Practitioner may, with the leave of the Court, refer to medico/legal reports, which are in evidence, which he or she has prepared.
  13. Where a General Practitioner is asked to give evidence in Family Law proceedings, where the General Practitioner has treated both partners, but is asked to give evidence on behalf of one such partner only, he or she should insist upon receipt of a Subpoena or Summons to Witness and may only discuss clinical details of the patient whose written consent has been furnished or who has directly requested the evidence.
  14. A General Practitioner is entitled to charge the party requesting that he or she attend Court to give evidence an appropriate fee for doing so. It is advisable that the doctor inform the party requesting that he or she attend Court of the likely level of fee and /or any sums which might be charged in respect of locum arrangements.
  15. General Practitioner’s should note that the form of address to a Judge is “Judge”.

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