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In civil cases where medical evidence is required, the medical witnesses make their own terms with the prosecution and defence.
In criminal cases a medical man is a compellable witness and may be called by either side, who can ensure his attendance by serving upon him a subpæna ad testificandum. On receipt of this he must attend court on a certain day under a penalty of £100 in default, but unless his expenses for the whole period of attendance and other reasonable expenses (railway fare, hotel expenses, etc.) are tendered previously he need not appear.
Rules to be observed in Giving Evidence.-The value of taking short notes of one's cases is seen to advantage when one of these cases comes up later as a criminal inquiry or in a civil action. At the time we may not have thought that there was anything of a criminal nature connected with the case, but the notes taken then are held by the court as important and valuable evidence. On no account, therefore, destroy even rough notes which you may have taken, as they represent your opinion at that time, and unbiased by any subsequent happenings.
In the coroner's court the medical witness should be most precise and accurate in his statements. In many instances, especially in country districts, this court may seem to have little formality or importance. The inquest may be held in a barn, shed or coach-house, but it has to be remembered that it is a court of law and that all statements the witness makes are taken down in writing. Should the case go on for trial before the superior courts, the medical witness will be examined and cross-examined on the answers he made to the coroner.
Any discrepancies, mis-statements or withdrawals will be made manifest and the medical witness will create a very bad impression on judge and jury when former evidence has to be explained away, qualified or even retracted. Many coroners read over the evidence which each witness has given before he asks him to sign it. If this be not done, then the medical witness, if he has any doubt that the answers he has given do not convey the impression he desired, ought to ask that his deposition be read over to him so that he may amend or correct any statement he may have made before he signs it.
As soon as there is reason to believe that one of your cases is likely to come before the courts, then you ought to draw up a complete narrative of the case with
extreme care and exactitude. You ought to make yourself master of every detail which is likely to come up in the course of examination. It is an unpardonable offence for a medical witness to forget names, dates, places, symptoms, etc. In regard to this particular case you ought to ransack your memory for every detail in so far as you were connected with it. On no account fill up from your own reasoning or imagination any hiatus. It may be quite wrong, and will be demonstrated so in cross-examination to your demerit. Commit the important facts to memory so as not to have to refer to your notes frequently, Read up all that the authorities say in reference to your
It is often wise for a young man to seek the advice and guidance of older practitioners in regard to the case. You must remember that counsel make themselves masters of the telling points, not only by their own reading, but by being coached by medical men who are often experts in the subject under investigation. You are, therefore, not meeting men who know nothing about the matter, but men who, for the time being at any rate, are thoroughly well up in the particular phase of medicine, surgery, obstetrics, etc., which is under discussion. It is the object of your opposing counsel to do everything to controvert your statements and to detract from your evidence ; his object is to get you to contradict yourself and to get answers from you favourable to his client. His questions are often irritating and what you may consider unnecessary. On no account, however, lose your temper.
The cross-examiner wishes you to do so, because he knows that when you are angry your answers will often be rash, unreasonable and even untrue. Remember that he is working perhaps in the interests of the prisoner, and merely doing his day's work as you are doing yours. Keep a perfectly equal mind in the witness box and answer his questions courteously, simply, distinctly and briefly. The jury are laymen, and therefore you ought to translate all technical medical terms into words of plain English, so that they will clearly understand the evidence you are giving.
If you think that any question put to you may reflect on some other individual or might even incriminate them, you ought to ask the judge if it is necessary to answer it. He may disallow the question, and it is passed over. On the other hand he may not, and then you must answer it without
regard to whom it may injure. In civil or criminal courts“ privilege” is not allowed. In many cases a private or written answer given to the judge will obviate any public statement. Counsel may demand an answer, yes or “no,” to a question. Often this cannot be given; if the examiner will not listen to your answer, then appeal to the judge to allow you to express your answer clearly.
Always make sure that you thoroughly understand the question put before answering it. Never volunteer evidence; wait until you are asked for it. This is especially true in answering questions put by counsel on your own side. He may have reasons for not wishing to elicit the information you are anxious to impart. If you have any special information to give, then communicate it to him previous to your appearance in the witness box. Remember also that you must tell the truth; you ought to have no brief on either side. You ought not to give answers favourable to the prisoner or against him if they are not exactly true. You have taken the oath" to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” When in the witness box your only duty is to state plainly, without prevarication, what you know as facts. Your opinion is altogether a different matter; it is one for your own judgment, and may thus differ from that of another medical witness.
As the trial may not have come on until long after the crime, you are allowed to "refresh your memory' in court by referring to your notes. These must,
. however, have been made at the time or very shortly afterwards. If you have, therefore, made a clear
and distinct summary of the case when it was absolutely fresh in your memory, it will now be of the greatest value to you, in that it has correct names, dates, figures, etc. You must not, however, refer to these notes often, as this gives a bad impression regarding your memory of events. For absolute precision, however, it is well to have them with you.
Do not take text-books into court with you for the purpose of referring to them. You will probably not be allowed to use them, as it is your own evidence which is required.