Graduate Seminars in Narrative
The NOVELLA ESRC Research Node, Institute of Education and
The Centre for Narrative Research, University of East London
A narrative study of how expert witnesses arrive at an opinion for court: child psychiatrists who provide expert testimony in the family courts.
Desirée Saddik, University of Essex
Tuesday February 3rd, 5.00-6.30
The Library, Thomas Coram Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London, 27-8 Woburn Square, London WC1H OAA
This paper examines expert witnesses’ narratives about arriving at an opinion for court.Expert witness evidence has been admitted by UK courts since Saxon times (Blom-Cooper, 2003). The activity of experts has been likened to pursuits of stargazing and alchemy (Bull, Kovera and McAuliff 2000) and remains controversial (Ministry of Justice 2011a and b) with a limited trail of inadequate research (Kapardis 2010). The main aim of this presentation is to identify and co-construct narrative themes from talking to expert witnesses about their activity.
Six highly experienced child psychiatry expert witnesses practicing in the UK were interviewed by a consultant child clinical psychologist expert witness. Talk generated was transcribed and written transcriptions were analysed. First and second order narrative analyses were constructed and applied. The narrative thematic analysis identified credibility, dialogical and meta-dialogical narrative themes.
Through their narratives, experts perform the credibility of their opinions. The expert’s opinion emerges out of many dialogical experiences, including one with the evolving dialogical self. Scepticism narratives, including the capacity to doubt and keep an open mind are core ontological narratives – that allow conflicting narratives to co-exist – with meta-dialogical status. Rereading of transcripts, and the case studies and metaphor narrative gestalts embedded, offered the reader-researcher an enriched experience of the text, beyond the scope of the professional narratives identified.
Expert witness activity was found to be a complex dialogical activity, likened to Aristotelian and Socratic reasoning, hermeneutic reading of text and the processes of the intuitive scientific man. The methodology can inform future narrative decision-making research. Reflections on the evolving nature of the expert in the current combative climate will be shared. It is hoped that the findings generate further dialogue by experts and court players alike about the nature of their activity and contribution to the lives of others.
Desirée Saddik works as a lead child adolescent and family clinical psychologist within the NHS and in private practice as an expert witness. She has a background in psychology, philosophy, psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy training. In her capacity as an ‘expert witness’ she has worked with families who find themselves in the hands of the family court, and with asylum seekers and others who have experienced trauma. The solitary experience of writing court reports, fuelled a curiosity to dialogue with other experts, in particular ‘elite” child psychiatrists active in the local London courts. A doctoral thesis, ‘A narrative study of how expert witnesses arrive at an opinion for court’, completed in 2014, analyses the narratives arising from these dialogues.