Title page for ETD etd-03302010-141420

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Genis, Marina
Email marinagenis@gmail.com
URN etd-03302010-141420
Document Title A content analysis of forensic psychological reports written for sentencing proceedings in criminal court cases in South Africa
Degree Master of Arts
Department Psychology
Advisor Name Title
Mr W C Griffith Supervisor
  • psychological expert testimony
  • psychometric tests
  • registration category
  • sentencing
  • forensic psychological assessment
  • psychologist expert witness
  • scope of practice
  • forensic psychological report
  • forensic psychology
  • psychological ethics
Date 2009-04-29
Availability unrestricted

Since the 1970s there has been a rising trend in South Africa for legal professionals to use the services of psychologists in legal proceedings. Psychologists have therefore increasingly started to appear as expert witnesses in court cases. Despite this, the field of forensic psychology in South Africa has yet to be defined and delineated.

Currently there are no set guidelines or regulations regarding who is qualified to do forensic work, and no standards against which this work can be measured. Psychology in the courtroom has begun to receive a notorious reputation as a result of this. The Professional Board for Psychology (PBP) of the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) is investigating the creation of a new category of registration, that of Forensic Psychologist, partly in an effort to manage and address this problem. However, to date little, if any, research has been conducted on the scope of the work presented to the courts by psychologists appearing as expert witnesses. This research aimed to address this gap by analysing a sample of forensic psychological reports. The following aspects were investigated:

  • Who (category or registration, length of registration, etc.) is doing sentencing reports;
  • How (interviews, collateral information, psychometric tests, etc.) these reports are compiled; and
  • Whether these reports measure up to professional expectations as well as adhere to the guidelines of the HPCSA.

It is clear from the results of this research that some of the psychologists doing forensic assessments and writing reports do so in an idiosyncratic way. Besides the fact that no uniformity exists, forensic work is sometimes done by psychologists who are not qualified to do so in terms of their registration category and thus their scope of practice. The reports analysed did not always measure up to guidelines or professional standards from abroad (in lieu of local standards or guidelines for reports) and/or transgressions were made in terms of HPCSA policies and guidelines. This situation is understandable in the light of two shortfalls in this field, namely training and regulation.

The following recommendations can be made on the basis of this study:

  • That psychologists who are adequately trained and have the proven experience in forensic work, be accredited by the PBP;
  • That guidelines and standards for forensic work be drawn up by the PBP; in addition, that more complete ethical guidelines than those contained in chapter 7 of the PBPs Rules of Conduct Pertaining Specifically to Psychology also be drawn up;
  • That adequate training at MA level in basic forensic issues be made compulsory, with the option of advanced training for those wishing to specialise in the field; and
  • That lawyers be trained in basic concepts of psychology so as to allow for better selection of an appropriate psychologist to assist them and also to assure effective cross-examination regarding psychological issues in court.

If these recommendations were implemented, they could aid in regulating the field, thus producing forensic work of a consistently high quality. This will hopefully help to narrow the gap between the expected and actual interaction between law and psychology.

Copyright 2008, University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

Genis, M 2008, A content analysis of forensic psychological reports written for sentencing proceedings in criminal court cases in South Africa, MA dissertation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-03302010-141420/ >

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