President’s Letter March 2016

The latest from Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes.

Our theme for this month is psychology and the criminal justice system, and a quick glance through our psychology news releases for just one month demonstrates just how important psychology is in this area and what a vital role psychologists play in the criminal justice system.

If you remember, I recently welcomed the proposal by the Law Commission to include psychologists in wider tests to assess defendants’ psychological fitness to plead when facing criminal charges (see also p.172). The Commission rightly now want psychologists advice and test results to supplement the current advice given by a consultant psychiatrist and another medical doctor, on which the whole system depends, and a number of our Society members were involved in the consultation process. Just after that, our Research Digest reported a study in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology stating that police officers believe ‘a lot of psychology myths related to their work’. Here too, then, there is a clear need for increased input from psychologists, this time into police training.

The third news item showed that the relationship between psychology and criminal justice is not a new one by any means, as those who attended the History of Psychology Centre’s seminar on the management of ‘mentally ill’ offenders in the 19th century, held with University College London, found out very recently. But now, as Dee Anand, who chairs our Division of Forensic Psychology observes: ‘It is heartening to see a move towards a less categorical approach to understanding the impact of the judicial process on mental health, and we hope this leads to a more progressive approach in understanding mental health.’

Finally, and looking into the near future, Chartered Psychologists working in forensic settings were reminded that this year marks the final year of grandparenting for the BPS forensic contexts testing qualifications, developed for practitioners who use tests in forensic settings such as prisons, secure hospitals, courts or probation.

Turning to another subject, I have received letters from members who are concerned about the way in which the Society manages its investments, specifically in fossil fuels. There has also been correspondence in The Psychologist about this. This, of course, is a very salient issue and one which the Wellcome Trust also recently considered, deciding, in their case, to retain their stock of investments in fossil fuels for the moment. I need to say, as Chair of our Board of Trustees until May, that it is the primary duty of the trustees to ensure that the Society’s investments are managed in the best possible way on behalf of all our members. We have an ethical investment policy and annual meetings with the people who manage our investments. Having said that, I have asked that this issue is put on the agenda of our March meeting for discussion so that we can review the policy and its implications for any current investments, and I am also looking at ways in which the details of our investments can be made available in the most accessible form as soon as possible.

Jamie Hacker Hughes is President of the British Psychological Society. Contact him at [email protected] or follow on Twitter: @profjamiehh.

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