How to... write a statement for the police or court
The best way to avoid being called to court is to write a good statement. In criminal law, the prosecution has to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. The aim of the defence is to introduce doubt. If the defence team sees an ambiguous statement or one that makes unjustified claims they may decide it is worth calling you to court to sow the seeds of doubt.
1) Proper written consent must be obtained from the patient and this should be mentioned in the statement.
2) A court has the legal power to order a doctor to release information without consent but this would have to be from a magistrate or judge. Even then, the doctor should clarify the position before releasing the information. In this unusual situation, it would be sensible to get advice from the medical defence organisation before writing a statement.
3) If a police officer is taking the statement, ensure the statement is your version. Do not let the officer lead you.
4) Start the statement by explaining your role, current job and qualifications. How long had you known the patient? Were they registered? Also explain where you saw them and what time. Were they alone? The details of the examination should include a description of their general state – such as relaxed or upset.
5) Only write what you know. Never overstate the case to 'ensure justice is done'.
6) Beware of interpreting findings. It is possible to comment that there was a yellowing bruise 3-4cm on the left shin. It is not possible to say whether this was from a policeman's boot or tripping over a step.
7) Describe injuries accurately; where is it, the size, whether it appeared old or new, and what type of injury, such as bruise, abrasion or wheal. Remember a laceration is a full thickness blunt injury and not a cut from a knife.
8) Finish by commenting where you got the information. 'This statement is based on my contemporaneous notes held in the practice.' If you do make this comment, ensure that everything in the statement is also is the notes.
Forensic medicine is a specialty. Do not stray outside your area of expertise. You can look something up but, if you do, quote the reference in the statement.
Dr Peter Moore is a GP in Torquay