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Improving the Quality of Claimant’s Oral Evidence - Dr Mark Burgin

10/03/22. Dr. Mark Burgin BM BCh (oxon) MRCGP explains that GP experts have special skills in communication and can help claimants tell their story.

A significant proportion of claimants in civil courts are aware that they have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 and about twice as many are unaware.

The responsibility for making reasonable adjustments is being transferred from solicitors to the experts and the judges of the small claims courts.

This article suggests some simple steps that can be taken to improve the quality of oral evidence that is available to the court.

The main determinate of a good memory is the ability to recall what is there, creation of a story or explanation and using triggers.

Memory recall

Almost all humans have similar ability to create memories but some are better at recalling those memories than others.

Those with poor memory recall have the memory stored somewhere in the brain but have problems accessing that memory without help.

Giving the person longer to recall, asking the question in different ways and repeating what the claimant has said are brute force ways of improving recall.

More subtle approaches are improving rapport and encouraging communication with positive nonverbal signalling.

Creation of a story

Some claimants can remember all the details when asked separately but get confused when asked a more complex question.

Their problem is processing their memory into a story or an explanation that they can use to draw upon when answering a question.

GP experts use the biopsychosocial model to help the claimant find their explanation – asking why they felt stressed or anxious to find the thoughts.

This allows the claimant to gradually piece together their thoughts like a jigsaw and then stand back to see what has been made.

Using triggers.

Listening to sounds, looking at pictures and holding objects have all been used in those with severe restrictions to enable memories.

In a consulting room (or a court room) getting the claimant to place themselves in the situation by asking them to remember any detail is more usual.

The longer the claimant is mentally ‘in’ the situation the more that they will be able to look around and access the memories that are there.

Where the triggers cause an emotional reaction there are other more complex techniques to reduce the response that can allow the claimant to recall.

Conclusions

The issue of poor memory is commonplace in civil cases but can be particularly challenging in personal injury.

The claimant’s oral evidence to their solicitor may not be available for courts as the personal injury threshold increases.

Generalist medical experts (GPs and A&E) have been tasked with maintaining the quality of the evidence from claimants.

Experts will have to work harder to fill the gap and identify those who have hidden disabilities that could impair the quality of their oral evidence.

Doctor Mark Burgin, BM BCh (oxon) MRCGP is on the General Practitioner Specialist Register.

Dr. Burgin can be contacted on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 0845 331 3304 website drmarkburgin.co.uk

Image ©iStockphoto.com/Karl-Hendrik Tittel

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