Writing Reports for Court: An International Guide for Psychologists Who Work in the Criminal Jurisdiction

Jack White, Andrew Day, Louisa Hackett and J. Thomas Dalby

Psychologists are increasingly being asked to give evidence in court as expert witnesses, yet for some it can be a harrowing experience. Writing Reports for Court provides essential support for psychologists when preparing a court report and giving evidence. 

A well prepared report underpins an effective court presentation. The credibility of a psychologist called upon to prepare a report for court will be questioned if the document presented is viewed poorly. The court will place little weight on the report and the psychologist's professional reputation will be placed at risk. 

This book offers guidance on the content and structure of reports, highlights the importance of assessments that directly address the legal questions under consideration, and includes detailed descriptions of relevant law and practice in Australia, Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Singapore. 

Featuring several comprehensive case studies, this book serves as an excellent resource for any working psychologist who may find themselves in a criminal court as well as any psychologist or student considering a career in forensic work.


FOREWORD by Judge Gordon Barrett
Judge of the District Court of South Australia

"For three of the four authors of this book it is their second book on the topic. In 2007 Jack White, Andrew Day and Louisa Hackett published Writing Reports for Court: A Practical Guide For Psychologists Working in Forensic Contexts. In this more recent book, they are joined by J. Thomas Dalby from Canada. Hence the ‘Practical’ guide becomes the ‘International’ guide. That is not simply because a Canadian perspective has been included with the assistance of J. Thomas Dalby. This guide includes detailed descriptions of relevant law and practice in the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Singapore. Despite the substitution of ‘International’ for ‘Practical’ this addition contains all the helpful material of its predecessor. Material has been expanded and updated. Both books wisely include sections on psychologists giving evidence, pointing out how essential to effective court presentation is a well prepared report. Those psychologists who have given evidence in contested hearings, well know how the strengths and weaknesses of their reports have enhanced or weakened their evidence. Skilled cross-examiners do not spend much time on the well reasoned, well authenticated passages in a report. They focus on the gaps in history taking or the insufficiently supported conclusions. This book is a very helpful guide to psychologists in avoiding those and other pitfalls.

The other difference in the subtitle of this book reflects a focus this time on the criminal jurisdiction. Whereas the predecessor volume dealt with the civil and matrimonial jurisdictions those topics are omitted here. I think there is sense in that. The general advice given to psychologists working in the criminal jurisdiction will remain helpful for those working in the civil and matrimonial jurisdictions, but the practice and protocols of those jurisdictions are sufficiently different to require detailed and separate treatment.

Judges and magistrates sometimes criticise psychologists’ reports for being too long. Those criticisms may turn out to be well founded if the area of dispute in court is reduced or if the charges faced by the defendant are quite minor. Occasionally a psychological report is commissioned when more extensive submissions by counsel would suffice. However the psychologist is in a difficult position. He or she cannot be quite sure how detailed his or her report should be. It should also be borne in mind that psychological reports are not only read by those associated with the court process. The reports are forwarded to Community Corrections if the defendant is placed on a supervised bond. The reports go to the prison authorities and the Parole Board if the defendant is imprisoned. The reports are then needed by the professional people charged with supervising or housing the defendant. Individual parts of a report may be of limited assistance to the court but they are of greater value to others down the track.

The authors of this book have, I think, got the balance right. They have provided guidance for the preparation of thorough, professional reports. It is up to the experienced psychologist to compose the report best suited to the needs of the client and the occasion that brings him or her before the court. This book, like its predecessor, will help practitioners in that task. The authors are to be congratulated on the wealth of experience they have passed on. Psychological reports, and psychologists’ evidence, will be enhanced by this work."

About the Author

Jack White is the principal of White & Associates Psychologists, a specialist forensic psychology practice based in Adelaide. He has a Doctorate Degree in Psychology from the University of Adelaide and is a Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society. He received the 2008 Award of Distinction from the Australian Psychological Society's College of Forensic Psychologists and is a past National Chair of that College. He taught within the Forensic Psychology Masters program (1999-2010) at the University of South Australia, and currently is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Canberra. Academically he has published widely in areas that include report writing, psychometric assessment, Indigenous neuropsychology, mental impairment, intellectual disability, and criminal behavior in athletes.

Andrew Day is Professor in the School of Psychology at Deakin University and a Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society. He has published widely in the area of offender rehabilitation. Before joining academia he was employed as a clinical psychologist in South Australia and the UK, having gained his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in Applied Criminological Psychology from the University of London.

Louisa Hackett is the Principal Psychologist for Youth Justice in South Australia. While gaining her Masters in Forensic Psychology, she worked as a Research Associate in the Forensic Psychology Research Group at the University of South Australia. Since then, she has worked primarily in correctional and forensic mental health settings, conducting psychological assessments and providing intervention with adults and young people involved in the criminal justice system for the last 10 years.

J. Thomas Dalby has provided expert opinions to courts across Canada and the United States for 36 years relating to criminal, civil and administrative law matters. Dr Dalby is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of Calgary and was on the faculty of Medicine for 26 years. He has published over 100 books, chapters, and articles in medical, legal and psychological forums. In 2013 Dr Dalby received the highest Canadian award for a professional psychologist - the Canadian Psychological Association's award for distinguished contributions to psychology. He has also published fiction and was co-writer of an award-winning screenplay based on a key insanity case in London in 1843.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • About the Authors
Chapter 1 Introduction
  • Difference Between a Witness of Fact and an Expert Witness
  • Guidelines for Expert Witnesses
  • The Report Structure
  • The Introduction
  • Background Material
  • Current Legal Matter
Chapter 2 The Psychological Assessment
  • Behaviour During the Assessment
  • Essential Elements of Psychological Tests
  • Performance Based Tests
  • Availability of Treatment or Rehabilitation
  • Impression Management and Malingering
  • Psycho-Legal Tests
Chapter 3 Opinion
  • Court Report: Mr Jack Jones
  • Court Report: Mr William Pitt
  • Court Report: Mr Leonard Panther
  • Court Report: Mr Jason Collins
  • Court Report: Mr Arthur Askey
Chapter 4 Going to Court as an Expert Witness
  • Know the Legal Landscape
  • Pre-Trial Consultation
  • Preparation
  • Getting Qualified or 'Proofed' as an Expert
  • The Scientific Expert
  • Examination in Chief
  • Cross-Examination
  • Re-Direct
  • Post-Trial Consultation
  • Advanced Performance
Chapter 5 Report Writing in Different Jurisdictions
  • United States of America
  • Canada
  • United Kingdom
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • References
  • Appendix - Example Practice Direction
  • Glossary of Psychological Tests
  • Index