Unreliable assessment in civil litigation

Michael J. Scott and Sundeep Sembi's Personal Space
PSYCHOLOGISTS are often called on to provide medico-legal assessments of psychological damage following traumas such as road accidents and assaults. Structured interviews rarely form part of such assessments, yet they have long been established as an essential standard in research. Prior to the development of structured interviews the level of agreement between different assessors was so poor (32–54 per cent according to Beck et al., 1962) as to gravely impair research. But 20 years later, Williams and Spitzer (1982) could declare: ‘It is widely accepted now that there is a need for research investigators to employ a standardised and reliable diagnostic system to select and describe samples of subjects for research.’ In this article we argue that current medico-legal practice lags behind developments in research methodology.

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