The role of the psychologist in the legal field

The role of the psychologist in the legal field
The work of the psychologist in the legal field has received various denominations over the years, including: Legal, Legal, Forensic, Judicial, Criminological Psychology, ... This diversity in its terminology denotes both a certain ambivalence, as a wide range of development possibilities.

Nowadays the most extended term is that of Legal Psychology, although the rest of the denominations are still used, depending in each case on both the author and the content of the treaty. Given the rise of this area, in this article, we will talk about the role of the psychologist in the legal field.

Legal Psychology could be defined as: "the application of the science and profession of psychology to legal issues and issues".

The development of legal psychology

International evolution

Making a little history about the development of the relations between Psychology and Law, four stages are distinguished.

In the first, from the beginning of the century until the 1930s, the pioneering works of Stern, Binet and Munsterberg on the psychological processes of testimony stand out. Munsterberg, in his book On the Witness Stand, 1907, proposed the use of a Word Association Test that would help establish the accused's guilt or not, which earned him very hard attacks among jurists.

In addition, from the 70's the "boom" of Legal Psychology can be seen, noting a notable increase in the number of publications on the subject; interest grows above all in the area of Criminal Law and in the Selection and Decision of the Jury.

There is a key element that happened in the United States in 1962: the Jenkins v. USA case. The Courts rejected the testimony on the schizophrenic mental illness of an accused individual, prepared by three expert psychologists, in the first instance. Along with it, the American Psychiatric Association raised its protest in form and its opposition to the admission of the psychologist as an expert. In the appeal, the psychological expertise that was proven correct was admitted.
From that moment, the rejection of the psychologist as an expert in his field of specialization is considered a mistake.

Along the same lines, the psychological expert may be considered in the case of the "Role Play" (1997) as a milestone in Spain in defense of the expertise of psychologists in front of other mental health professionals.

Development in Spain

The first historical element worth mentioning does not appear until 1932 when Emilio Mira y Lopez publishes the "Manual of Legal Psychology" which outlines what he senses that the future of psychology may be in this plot.

But until the 70s the first two precursors of this area do not appear: On the one hand the so-called Barcelona School of Legal Psychology, where the works of Ramón Bayés, Muñoz Sabaté and Munné Matamala (1980) that with their compilation of works appeared in previous years, under the heading of Introduction to Legal Psychology, they greatly influenced forensic psychologists of the moment.

Being the other key element for the development of this discipline in Spain, the drag effect that Penitentiary Psychology achieved on the other aspects of Legal Psychology. Psychologists began to work within the penitentiary field in the early 1970s, being the first to begin to interest both universities and other institutions about the work of these professionals in the judicial field.

Already in the decade of the 80, the College of Psychologists has also served as an enhancer and diffuser of this discipline. In this regard, it is worth highlighting the efforts of the Delegation of Madrid that in 1985 promoted the study for the preparation of a Catalog of Documents in Legal Psychology, whose first edition would be released in January 1986. This Delegation also promoted the creation of the Section of Legal Psychology in 1987, which among other activities was dedicated to the dissemination of this branch of Psychology, and to train professionals in the different aspects that it encompasses.

As difficulties in consolidating this discipline, Munné (1996) points out that although in our country we are witnessing a notable expansion of Legal Psychology, this process is more quantitative than qualitative,in the sense that the growth that this supposes hardly occurs at the expense of the potentiality of the matter. That is, the world of law continues to remain almost impassive in the face of this process, as an example of this we continue to find that the doors of the law faculties continue to be little permeable to Legal Psychology. In general we are witnessing a strong development of expert interventions before the courts by psychologists, but nevertheless we do not find a similar development of other areas of psychologist intervention in the field of law.

Fields of action of the Legal Psychologist

2.1.- Criminological Investigation:

In the area the general lines of research have been focused on studies such as those of Personality Variables and within them those described by Eysenck; the scales of Socialization and the Search for Sensations; Cognitive Variables, such as orientation, values, and cognitive problem solving skills. Etc.

2.2. - Police and Armed Forces Psychology:

The topics that are addressed within these organizations, usually, are those of formation of these groups, selection, organization and relations with the community.

Psychological intervention in this area in Anglo-Saxon countries has been focused on the study of motivations, personality traits, skills required of good police, attribution of responsibility to criminals, perceptions of society, stereotypes about minorities, etc.

2.3. - Victimology:

In contrast to the attention received by the cause of the crime, the victim is left helpless in the face of the consequences of the damage caused, claiming the need to promote assistance and compensation programs for the victims.

In Spain, the primary interest in this field has focused on two groups fundamentally: abused childhood, appearing societies for their study and prevention and the mistreatment of women, being in recent years a very current issue, with continuous news in all media.

The functions of the psychologist in this area would be the attention, evaluation, treatment and monitoring of victims in their different grades; and the study, planning and prevention in risk groups and information campaigns to the general population.

2.4. - Academic studies: Judicial Psychology (Testimony and Jury):

In the application of Judicial Psychology, the psychologist works on the assessment of jurors, as well as investigating decision-making processes, social influence, etc.

Another field where numerous studies have emerged has been the Testimony; this is the set of knowledge that based on the results of research in the fields of Experimental Psychology and Social Psychology try to determine the quality (accuracy and credibility) of the testimonies that on the crimes, accidents or daily events, the eyewitnesses provide.

These areas are the ones that have had the most academic development and the greatest number of researches they have carried out, as they have the impulse and support of the university world.

2.5. - Social Services:

Within this area, we must not forget the work carried out by psychologists working in the Social Services of the Autonomous Communities, which since 1987 have attributed all the powers related to the protection and protection of minors in situations of helplessness or danger, promoting the files related to Child Welfare and Adoption. They are also entrusted with the task of implementing the Educational Project that the Juvenile Court has deemed appropriate for the Minors of Reform, whose files are processed.

2.6. - Prison Psychology:

She has been the pioneer in this field and understands the psychologist's performance within the penitentiary institutions, developing the work of classifying the inmates in concrete modules, progressions and regressions of degree, study of the granting of the exit penitentiary permits, of the pardons, etc. They also deal with the general organization of the center, study the social climate, perform group and individual treatments, etc.

2.7. - Mediation:

Mediation is an alternative to the traditional way of resorting to justice in search of a solution. The solution is not given from abroad, but is made by the parties themselves in conflict with the help of an impartial third party, the mediator, who tries to help them achieve consensual agreements that allow them a peaceful way out of the conflict situation. The basis of this new technique is in a way of understanding the different individual-society relations, sustained by the self-determination and responsibility that lead to a cooperative and peaceful behavior.

Currently, this technique is used in various conflicts: labor, criminal, civil, commercial, administrative, police intervention, decision making in organizations, etc. In Spain, mediation has developed primarily in the family environment.

2.8. - Psychology applied to the Courts:

The Psychology Applied to the Courts or Forensic Psychology refers to those activities that the Psychologist can perform in the "FORUM".  J. Urra (93) defines Forensic Psychology as the science that teaches the application of all branches and knowledge of Psychology to the questions of Justice, and cooperates at all times with the Administration of Justice, acting in the forum (court), improving the exercise of law.

We can consider that in this area it is where Spanish psychologists have achieved greater recognition, first thanks to their work as experts from the private sector and second as workers in the Administration of Justice with destination in the Juvenile, Family Courts, of Penitentiary Surveillance and in the Medical-Forensic Clinics.

The work as experts is regulated in the civil field in the Law of Civil Procedure by articles 335 to 352, and in the criminal field in the Law of Criminal Procedure, in articles 456 to 485.

Experts are third parties with specialized knowledge called to the process to provide special knowledge that the Judge to be a specialist in the Law does not have to possess, necessary for the perception and appreciation of facts that could not be captured without such special knowledge.

The psychologist in family law

Law 30/81, of July 7, introduced in the Civil Code an auxiliary instrument of prosecution, the "expert opinion", in relation to the measures to be taken on childcare and education, noting that "the Judge of ex officio or at the request of those interested, may obtain the opinion of specialists ".
The most common cases on which we are going to have to carry out a psychological evaluation in family law are the attribution of the Guardianship and Custody and the Design of the Visiting Regime most appropriate to the case under study.

An expert report for a family court consists of an expert's opinion on which measure will be the best for a child if their parents are separated, or at least which will be the least harmful for their development and psychosocial balance.

Parent-child relationships can go from normal, if parents have clear separation and there is dialogue as parents, to the total rejection of children towards the non-custodian, if the level of rivalry and hostility between parents is high and imply to the children.

The psychologist in the criminal field

The request for intervention as an expert in the criminal field can reach the psychologist from any of the competent jurisdictional bodies: Courts of Instruction, Criminal, Provincial Hearings, etc.

In Criminal Law, two groups can be distinguished on which the expert can deal. The first is the group of the accused or offenders. The second group, progressively important, is that of victims of the alleged crime.

In the first one we can be asked in a simplistic way for a "psychological examination" or more elaborately "personality profile”, "if there is psychopathology in your psyche", "mental deterioration", "drug addiction and affectation of your personality”, and in case of imputed the question will always be directed to "are the psychological bases of their imputability affected, that is to say knows the reality and is free to act according to that knowledge?".

As for crime victims, we usually ask that we assess their current emotional state in relation to the alleged crime, sequelae that may have remained in the emotional order and prognosis in the evolution of these sequels. In the cases of minors involved in sexual abuse, the psychologist is usually asked for their ability to testify, the credibility of their testimony and the psychosocial consequences derived from the crime.

The psychologist in the jurisdiction of minors

As antecedent of the intervention of the psychologist in the Juvenile Courts, it should be noted that the Law of 1948 contained the functions of the psychologist in his article 73. At the end of the decade of the 80 begin to transform the former Juvenile Courts Courts In the current Juvenile Courts, assisted by a career judge, as of this year, the positions of the Technical Teams of Juvenile Courts composed of Psychologists, Social Workers and Educators begin to be filled.

Organic Law 4/1992 legally recognizes the functions that the Technical Teams had been developing in recent years, with the team's report on the child's psychological, educational and family situation, as well as their social and general environment being mandatory. On any other circumstance that may have influenced the fact attributed to it, extending its intervention to the different phases of the process.

Moreover, with the entry into force of Organic Law 5/2000, regulating the criminal responsibility of minors, the intervention of the Technical Team has been enhanced.

The psychologist in the prison surveillance court

The tasks of the psychologists in this judicial body will be to issue reports prior to the resolution of resources for permits, degrees and favorable prognosis of social reintegration in parole files, as well as opinions prior to the reports that the Judge must periodically issue addressed to the sentencing court to monitor the execution of security measures.

Normally the psychologist is asked to report on inmates who have committed serious or very serious crimes, sexual assaults and homicides or murders, especially due to social alarm and the effects that the commission of new crimes would produce,

The reason that would justify the existence of professionals attached to the Penitentiary Surveillance Court is to provide this with an independent, independent and independent advisory team that reports on the situation of the inmate, not having to have other contact with the prisoner as he will have to have the prison psychologist who will work on your evaluation and treatment.