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Original article

Vol. 153 No. 5 (2023)

Expert opinions on criminal law cases in Switzerland – an empirical pilot study

Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2023;153:40073


BACKGROUND: Criminal courts of law rely on forensic psychiatric/psychological reports when clarifying legal questions of culpability, dangerousness, and the need for therapeutic measures for offenders. Incorrect decisions owing to a lack of expert report quality and comprehensibility can have serious consequences for potential victims, offenders themselves, or societal use of resources. In this pilot study, we started from the hypothesis that forensic psychiatric/psychological reports meet the minimum requirements for legally admissible expert opinions.

METHODS: Within the framework of assessment by the Concordat Expert Commission of Northwestern and Central Switzerland, 58 adult criminal law reports were randomly selected. Two researchers extracted and analyzed standardized data descriptively. For quality assurance, they followed the extended codebook of the Research and Development Department of the Zürich Office of Corrections and Reintegration.

RESULTS: Psychopathological findings accounted for only 1% of the reports, which seemed problematic considering that these findings reflect the personality traits of offenders. Furthermore, only 7% of offenders underwent physical examinations, and the reasons for not performing physical examinations were noted in fewer than half of these offenders. Of 26 sexual offenders, only one was physically assessed. Additional imaging or neurophysiological examinations (e.g. electroencephalogram) were conducted in only one offender. Furthermore, published baseline recidivism rates were used in only 37.9% of the reports.

CONCLUSIONS: The results of this study suggest that current forensic psychiatric assessment is deficient. The infrequent use of published recidivism rates for risk communication denies prosecutors and judges solid reference values for the actual recidivism probability. Moving away from somatic medicine contradicts the federal court judgment, which disqualifies psychologists from providing a forensic report owing to their lack of expertise in physical examination. The authors recommend the multidisciplinary involvement of forensic psychiatrists and psychologists and, in certain cases, of specialists in somatic medicine to produce accurate and well-founded reports.


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