Date of Award

1998

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Psychology

Faculty

Faculty of Community Services, Education and Social Sciences

First Advisor

Don Thomson

Abstract

The extent to which Australian psychologists and psychiatrists are cognisant of the legal standard for Fitness to Stand Trial (FST) was investigated. 198 psychologists from The Australian Psychological Society (APS), and 125 psychiatrists from The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) responded to a survey. Psychiatrists identified a greater number of legal criteria than psychologists. This finding extended across clinicians who had experience in the evaluation of fitness to stand trial and those who did not. No difference was found between psychologists and psychiatrists for mentioning irrelevant or insufficient considerations. However, a within-group analysis revealed that the most likely condition under which psychologists and psychiatrists were found to incorporate "mental state at the time of the offence" was when they had done between 1 and 4 evaluations. Membership of both the Forensic and Clinical Colleges of the APS and the Forensic Section of RANZCP was also associated with the ability to identify more of the relevant legal criteria. The methods that psychologists and psychiatrists use to establish FST differed and were found to reflect basic training. Psychiatrists rely on the use of the clinical interview and consultation with lawyers, regardless of whether the basis of the request for assistance is intellectual disability or mental disorder. Psychologists place much greater emphasis on the use of psychometric tests, particularly when intellectual disability is implicated. The results indicate that generally both psychologists and psychiatrists have an insufficient understanding of the legal criteria for fitness to stand trial. This investigation also points to the urgent need for the APS and RANZCP to ensure membership of their forensic college or section is conditional on the completion of a formal forensic training program. Directions for future research and practical implications are discussed.

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