giving evidence in court


Detail from The Worship of Baccus, George Cruikshank (1864)

Source: Jonathan Goodlife


the CPS and Crown Court


forensic evidence in court (Wellcome Collection)


Dr Milton Helpern on partisan medical experts


They lose their scientific objectivity and throw professional caution to the winds, and get all involved in playing the game of 'Win With This Witness', or This Witness Wants to Win'. Some of them become even more partisan. They get so engrossed in the outcome of the case and playing the game that they forget they are doctors. They spew forth a bunch of garbage in the most scientific prose that is pure, unadulterated medical horse manure.


Regrettably, some of the worst offenders are my own colleagues in pathology. They seem to feel that since they have the final look, this gives them a biblical right to the final word; so they make the most of it.


Another paradox is that the worst offenders are the hospital pathologists. Colorful old Charles Norris, the first Medical Examiner of New York City, used to call them 'pissologists'. These fellows do a bang-up job on running urinalyses, but they have absolutely no experience with the problems of forensic medicine. Still, they come into court and be completely positive and dogmatic on matters that are completely outside the area of reasonable medical certainty.


They are doubly dangerous because they express their opinions in such polished, sonorous tones of complete confidence that the jury sits back and says: 'Now here's a man we can believe. That other fellow who said he couldn't be sure sounded pretty wishy-washy; so I guess we can safely forget all about his opinion'. Hell, the guy who says he can't be sure is the one who is staying within the bounds of recognized medical knowledge, while the 'pissologist' is the charlatan.... The law demands more than medicine can honestly give.

Dr Milton Helpern in 'Where death delights', Marshall Hout 1967 pp. 118-119

medicine and the politics of the English Inquest



Current Practice in Forensic Medicine, Gall J, Payne-James J (Ed), Wiley Blackwell 2011

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