History of Forensic Psychiatry
Though generally accepted as a sub-specialty of the broader medical and psychiatry discipline, the history of forensic psychiatry requires a little bit of separation. The word forensic comes from the Latin adjective forensics, meaning "of or before the forum". By definition, all psychiatric activity may contain some element of forensics. Psychiatry as a medical specialty did not really exist before the late eighteenth century, but issues involving legal and social problems go back as far as civilization itself.
Evidence Of Forensic Psychiatry In Ancient Times
Ancient Babylonia provides evidence, according to some authorities, of what was the first murder trial and the first expert witness (a midwife in this case). The importance of intention in judging the actions of someone was evident in the Babylonian legal system, known as the Code of Hammurabi.
Ancient Hebrew Law understood the status of an act as determined by the intent of the participant, describing in Deuteronomy (19:1-13) the need to establish "refuge cities" that would keep safe someone who had killed by accident, preventing them from being captured by avenging relatives.
The Greek philosopher Plato recognized the rational soul as distinguishing human beings from lower animal forms and divided behavior between the rational and the irrational. His contention was that because humans are free to choose their actions, harsher punishments should come to those who committed harms with a degree of calculation. Plato’s student, Aristotle, determined that a person was morally responsible if, with knowledge of the circumstances and in the absence of external compulsion, deliberately chose to commit a specific act. These approaches have endured to influence today’s Psychiatric Expert Witness.
Forensic Psychiatry In Medieval Times
In the sixth through sixteenth centuries, often referred to as the Middle Ages, the Roman and Christian traditions influenced most of Europe. Emperor Justinian ordered a review of civil laws, which became known as The Code of Justinian. The code made provisions for the insane, protecting them from loss of property or position, though not considering them capable of making a will, transacting business or responsible for wrongdoing.
Shortly after considerations were made for diminished mental capacity. Malingering, addressed often by today’s Expert Forensic Psychiatrist, has been an age old issue. Feigning insanity to avoid punishment for crimes occurred regularly. Unfortunately, at the time, physicians were considered experts for physical issues, but they were not consulted as experts in issues regarding or determining one’s mental health. Insanity was considered a judgment for the community, not a medical judgment.
With no Psychiatric Expert Witness, tests of legal insanity were developed and became traditions of common law. Chief judiciary of the highest English court, Henry de Bracton, became instrumental in developing such tests and authored "On the Laws and Customs of England", printed in 1256 A.D. Bracton is credited with what was known as "the wild beast test". The test, fortunately, did not compare humans to beasts, but did dictate that in order for the insane to avoid responsibility for a crime, a fury or wildness must characterize either the personality of the individual or the act itself. The test attempted to point out that the insane, much like animals, were not capable of forming the required intent to commit crime. In cases where responsibility was sought to be avoided due to insanity, the matter would be turned over to the king for a pardon, a procedure also used for cases in which one killed in self-defense or by accident.
Before the development of today’s Expert Forensic Psychiatrist, English statute made a distinction between those believed to be disturbed at birth and those who’s illness appeared after birth. Those who were not born with an illness included a wide range of disorders and often were considered to be temporarily ill or in a state where a total recovery was possible.
Without the legal and medical insight of a modern Expert Forensic Psychiatrist, determinations as to which category an individual fell into were in the hands of Inquisitions, sheriffs and local public officials. A tragic aspect of these community judgments of insanity was the lack of medical knowledge and superstition that resulted in the witch-hunting practices of the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries. Many thousands were tried for practicing witchcraft, with the writing of Malleus Maleficarum (Witches Hammer) used as a textbook for identifying witches. Insanity was recognized by the community, but the illness was often believed to be the work of the devil or caused by witches. Johann Weyer (1515-1588) was considered to be the voice of reason in this time. A physician who recognized that witchcraft was too often used as a diagnosis for what would otherwise be considered madness, he devoted much of his professional life to psychiatric illnesses. His work, and in the opinion of some, the witch trials themselves, were the precursor of the modern interface of law and medicine, precursor for a Psychiatric Expert Witness.
Modern Forensics And The Development Of The Psychiatric Expert Witness
The origins of modern forensic medicine can be traced to the Bishop of Bamberg and the 1507 penal code that lead to requirements placed in the Constitution Carolina of Emperor Charles V that required evidence of medical men in all cases where their testimony could enlighten the judge or assist investigation in cases of personal injury, murder, and pretended pregnancy. A reference dating to 1511 in courts of Paris referred to medical experts used in courts. The beginning of the sixteenth century marks the recognition of legal authorities that the Psychiatric Expert Witness and the Expert Forensic Psychiatrist were not only useful, but indispensable in the interests of justice and the application of laws.