Meet the Expert Witness - Dr Ruth Tully, Consultant Forensic Psychologist

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Dr Ruth Tully is a Consultant Forensic Psychologist (HCPC Registered Forensic Psychologist, BPS Chartered Psychologist). She has been providing expert witness services for around 10 years and she and her team of forensic and clinical psychologists provide a range of expert witness assessments throughout the UK through her company, Tully Forensic Psychology Ltd.

How did you get into this field of work?

My forensic psychology career began with me working in prisons delivering treatment, before broadening my experience to secure psychiatric units and the community. Through this work I could see the benefits that expert psychological advice can provide at all stages of someone’s journey in the criminal justice system, especially early on in the court process. Alongside my clinical experience I also have a solid background in research and academia, having published in the field of forensic psychology over the years.

I was inspired to use my skills, knowledge, and experience to make a difference to risk management, psychological treatment, and ultimately public protection through the work that I have completed over this time. I was particularly motivated by seeing the impact on victims and those who have offended (in criminal cases) and families (for family court) of providing timely psychological advice to assist the court. To assist my work and specifically my expert role, I have completed various training courses along the way to, including being awarded the Cardiff University Bond Solon (CUBS) Civil, Criminal and Family Expert Witness Certificates.

What does your typical day/week look like?

As a forensic psychologist my role is very varied, and no two weeks are the same. I provide expert and clinical assessments, so on one day I might be interviewing someone for an assessment, whilst the next day might involve me appearing in court on an entirely different case. This means I have to allocate time to prepare so that I can hold the relevant cases in mind as I will often be working on more than one case at a time. Another day might involve me providing psychological advice and support to the police in a cold case or giving advice to TV crime dramas as a script consultant. My clinical work also involves providing supervision to psychologists and training professionals in psychological assessments such as risk or personality assessments.

I enjoy the varied nature of my work and the fact that no two days are the same, but this can also be a juggle as sometimes what is needed in a case can be unpredictable; being flexible with my time is really important.

What is the most interesting matter that you have worked on?

Due to the nature of my work, I can’t discuss specific cases, but the types of assessments that I work on include forensic risk assessments in cases such as terrorism/extremism, sexual offending, and violent offending. An example of my work includes providing expert opinion in parole cases on whether a person with a serious offending history is safely manageable if they were to be released from prison in the community. This sort of work is very specialist and requires experience and training; my role involves reviewing collateral information and speaking to others involved in the case, interviewing the prisoner, conducting specialist psychometric and risk assessments, and forming an opinion about safe risk management and public protection. I am then required to give oral evidence about my report and opinions at a hearing to inform the decision making of The Parole Board.

My key takeaways about this work, and other similar work such as my criminal and family court assessments are that an expert should not only have knowledge and skills for assessment and report writing, but they also need to be highly competent at giving oral evidence and at adapting this to the audience. A psychologist can write the most accurate report possible, but if in oral evidence they can’t communicate their views clearly and in a manner which the stakeholders can clearly understand, then the report may be of little value. Another key point I always hold in mind is the gravity of the decisions that panels and courts must make, and the impact of this on the person being assessed and in the case of forensic psychology, public protection. This really motivates me to work to the highest possible standards.

What are the highs and lows of the job?

High points of the expert witness work I undertake largely involve the feeling of making a difference in a case to the individuals involved and to wider society when it comes to risk. For example, my expert report of a victim in a criminal case might affect decisions about how best to support them to give evidence in court or adaptations needed for interview. An assessment of a defendant can influence whether an intermediary is provided, for instance in a case where I have assessed that the defendant has learning disability. Whether assessing a complainant or defendant, the opinions provided can influence the criminal proceedings and assist in ensuring access to justice for those involved.

Challenges of the expert role involve the tight deadlines; when working with people, sometimes complex psychological presentations mean that assessments can take unexpected turns or take longer than average but there is a need to still meet deadlines. This therefore means that this work is not a typical ‘9 to 5’ role. Additionally, as expert assessments are conducted by me as an individual psychologist, this means that it can be quite a solitary role at times. Despite the challenges, expert witness work is something that I really enjoy both in terms of the nature of the work with people with varied backgrounds and life experiences, as well as making a difference to outcomes.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start out?

For someone wanting to start out in expert witness work, whatever their field, I would recommend that they engage in training about the court processes and rules. This is so that they fully understand the context in which they are working, which often differs greatly to a typical role undertaken in any given profession. I would also recommend that they undertake ongoing professional development in their own field to stay up to date and skilled, and this may also enhance their confidence when giving evidence. Having a peer supervisor or colleague who engages in expert witness work to talk to is of great value, and/or working for an expert witness company that provides good support to their team members. If a professional is just starting out and wants to engage in expert witness work in the criminal field, if it is possible to observe a hearing such as in a public gallery, then I would encourage this to become familiar with the process.

All expert witnesses will have had their first experience at court at some point and will know that there are some things you have to learn ‘on the job’ as you go along. However, the more prepared and knowledgeable the expert is about the process the better, as this knowledge and feeling comfortable in the role will allow the professional to fully focus on their area of expertise.

Dr Ruth Tully, Consultant Forensic Psychologist (HCPC Registered and BPS Chartered Forensic Psychologist)

Tully Forensic Psychology Ltd

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