One of these steps involves a meeting with a suitably qualified doctor. This ‘medico-legal expert’ then prepares a report on the multifactorial effects that the abuse has had on you.
Medico-legal experts tend to be medical practitioners with a certain level of experience that qualifies them to provide their ‘expert’ opinion to the court. They are an independent and impartial individual with a primary duty to the court and usually will have attended expert witness training.
Your solicitor will normally arrange for you to attend an appointment with the medical expert of their choosing who will meet with you and prepare a report. In a child abuse claim the expert is most likely to be a psychiatrist (with a specialism in dealing with such claims) as the injury being claimed for is likely to be a psychiatric or psychological one.
Other appropriate experts
If the medical expert considers that the abuse has affected your education it may be necessary to instruct an educational psychologist to conduct cognitive assessments and give an opinion on what academic results could have been achieved had it not been for the abuse.
If the medical expert considers that as a consequence of the abuse your ability to earn has been compromised, it may be necessary to instruct an employment expert. And if you have also suffered physical injuries as a result of the abuse then a further report may be obtained from an appropriate expert such as a gynaecologist.
What happens before your appointment
Prior to your appointment with the expert, your solicitor prepares a detailed letter of instruction along with copies of all relevant records such as GP, hospital and counselling records. The expert’s consideration of these records will give them an insight into your medical history and background and allow them to establish whether there were any pre-existing injuries or conditions that could have contributed to any current diagnosis you may have. You should be provided with a copy of the letter of instruction so that you know what the expert has been told and what they are being invited to consider.
What to expect at the meeting
You will then be required to meet the expert for a face-to-face appointment which will usually be at the relevant expert’s clinic but can be arranged to take place at your solicitor’s office or at your home. The instructed expert will generally begin by asking you questions about your childhood and your background, as well as your current family life, interpersonal relationships, employment and health. They may also wish to speak with your spouse/partner or a close family member.
The appointment is nothing to worry about and the expert will try their best to help you feel at ease. It is important that you are open and honest with your answers to any questions so that the expert can have as much information as possible to formulate a reasoned opinion.
The contents of the report
The expert will usually send their report to your solicitors within 6-8 weeks, although in some cases it can take longer. The report will address several points, such as:
- Diagnosis of any psychiatric illness
- To what extent the psychiatric illness was caused by the abuse
- How the abuse may affect education, future employment and relationships
- Effect of diagnosis on daily life
- Whether any treatment/therapy is required and the cost of such treatment.
You will be given the opportunity to make any factual amendments you feel are necessary. Following this, and with your permission, the report will be sent to your opponent’s legal representatives.
Can your opponent instruct their own medical expert?
It is possible that the opponent’s solicitor may choose to obtain a report from their own selected medical expert. This is not that common, but it is important to know that it is a possibility. This usually occurs if the opponent does not agree with the expert your solicitor has instructed and so wishes to obtain a second opinion. Here is a case involving a claim against the Anglican Church where the claimant was asked to see the defendant’s own medical expert.
The importance of a medical report
Many survivors of abuse may feel hesitant in bringing a claim due to the thought of being ‘probed’ about their traumatic experiences by a doctor. However, readers should feel reassured that this is not the case and the medico-legal experts we choose conduct their interviews with great sensitivity and professionalism.
The medical report is a vital part of your claim, providing key evidence to substantiate the injuries and effects caused by your abuse. The report will be used by your solicitor, barrister and court to assess the level of compensation that you should receive. As mentioned above, being open with your answers to the expert’s questions will provide them with the details that they need to prepare a comprehensive report to assist in your claim.