Courts broadly consist of two types: criminal and civil. Additionally, the doctor will encounter the Coroners Court (or the Procurators Fiscal and Sheriffs in Scotland), which is, exceptionally, inquisitorial and not adversarial in its proceedings. A range of other special courts and tribunals exists, from ecclesiastical courts to social security tribunals; these are not described here.
A doctor may be called to any court to give evidence. The type of court to which he or she is called is likely to depend on the doctor's practice, specialty, and seniority. The doctor may be called to give purely factual evidence of the findings when he or she examined a patient, in which case the doctor is simply a professional witness of fact, or to give an opinion on some matter, in which case the doctor is an expert witness. Sometimes, a doctor will be called to give both factual and expert evidence.
Usually the doctor will receive fair warning that attendance in court is required and he or she may be able to negotiate with those calling him or her concerning suitable dates and times. Many requests to attend court will be made relatively informally, but more commonly a witness summons will be served. A doctor who shows any marked reluctance to attend court may well receive a formal summons, which compels him or her to attend or to face arrest and proceedings for contempt of court if he or she refuses.
If the doctor adopts a reasonable and responsible attitude, he or she will usually receive the sympathetic understanding and cooperation of the lawyers and the court in arranging a time to give evidence that least disrupts his or her practice. However, any exhibition of belligerence by the doctor can induce a rigid inflexibility in lawyers and court officials—who always have the ability to "trump" the doctor by the issuance of a summons, so be warned and be reasonable.
Evidence in court is given on oath or affirmation. A doctor will usually be allowed to refer to any notes made contemporaneously to "refresh his memory," although it is courteous to seek the court's agreement.
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