Psycho-Legal Assessment

Psycho-legal assessment refers to the process where psychological knowledge is applied within a legal context. This process may also be called forensic psychology.

Within the South African context forensic psychology, or psycho-legal assessments, may be conducted by psychologists registered with the HPCSA. In addition, the psychologist is required to have proven high levels of competence with regards to the application of psychological principles within the context of the legal system.  Furthermore, psychologists will typically gain high levels of competence related to a specific area in the field. In this regard, they distinguish themselves as experts with regards to this specific area and may then be accepted by the court as an expert witness.

Examples of psycho-legal assessment include:

·      personal injury claims

·      medical negligence claims

·      third party claims such as claims from the Road Accident Fund.

Typically, the assessment entails an information gathering phase consisting of various types of interviews, assessment and reviewing of available reports regarding an individual’s functioning. This information will then be integrated in accordance with psychological principles and presented in the format of a report. This report contains the psychologist’s findings and based on these finding their expert opinion. The aim of this process is to assist the legal representative in obtaining a holistic picture of their client. In addition, this process provides recommendations on further areas that require exploration, treatment options and prognostic factors.

When requesting a psycho-legal evaluation, it is of utmost importance that the legal representative rather than the client makes contact with the clinician regarding the request, booking, and receipt of the report.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between medico-legal assessment and psycho-legal assessment?

A medico-legal assessment is a more general term for  to a medical professional conducting an assessment and writing a report that can be presented in court. A psycho-legal assessment refers more specifically to a medico-legal assessment and report conducted by a psychologist.

How do I go about booking a psycho-legal assessment?

Clients are usually referred by their legal representative. The legal representative emails the request for a psycho-legal assessment to the clinicians providing a summary of the case and commenting on the reason for referral as well as any specific areas requiring psycho-legal evaluation. The clinician will then respond with an estimated quotation for the assessment based on the aim of the assessment.

Once the quotation has been accepted, the legal representative provides the clinician with a letter of appointment and generally pays a 50% deposit (of the estimated quotation) to secure the appointment. Thereafter, the legal representative forwards all collateral documentation related to the case, for instance, hospital records of injuries sustained in an accident and, previous reports compiled by various professionals for medico-legal purposes.

How is a psycho-legal assessment conducted?

Firstly, a clinical interview is conducted with the client and possibly a relative, colleague or another person close to the client, who could provide a collateral picture of the client. This may take between one and two hours.

This is followed by a second session where hypotheses formulated during the clinical interviews are explored by means of psychometric assessment. This may take between three and five hours, depending on the nature and complexity of the matter investigated.

Finally, another interview is conducted with the client to explore any anomalies which may have arisen during the psychometric assessment.

A psycho-legal report is then compiled. This report will be delivered to the legal representative.

This process may vary slightly between clinicians; however, the principles remain the same.

What are the costs involved in a psycho-legal assessment?

Psycho-legal assessments are charged at hourly rates for the time spent interviewing and assessing the client or collateral sources, reviewing collateral documents and report writing. Court appearances and the travel costs associated with these appearances, which may follow the psycho-legal report, are charged for separately.

How quickly can I obtain a psycho-legal assessment?

The psycho-legal assessment process is a lengthy process which requires intensive input from a clinician. As such, it is of utmost importance that appointments be scheduled with sufficient time for the completion of the process.

Will my medical aid pay for a psycho-legal assessment?

No, medical aids only cover therapeutic claims, as such, psycho-legal consultations will not be covered by medical aids.

Payment will be made by the legal representative to the clinician.