Forensic psychologist services

Forensic Psychologist

Expert forensic psychological and forensic neuropsychological reports are often sought in both civil and criminal court proceedings to provide the courts with expert understanding and appreciation of an individual’s cognitive and psychological functioning, which can often have an impact on the legal question at hand. Common issues in the criminal context include an individual’s fitness to stand trial as well as any mitigating factors which may need to be taken into account on sentencing, for example, brain impairment which may have affected their judgement. In the civil arena, for example, injuries sustained by an individual in an accident or at work may need to be quantified and explained.

Dr Susan Pulman and Associates have extensive expertise in conducting forensic assessments and providing independent and objective expert reports for forensic matters at a local, district and supreme court level. Our aim is to provide comprehensive, comprehensible and objective opinion to the courts. We have dually trained and qualified forensic psychologists and clinical neuropsychologists that can draw on both skill sets to provide a highly specialised and expert report.

  • Criminal Law
  • Civil Law
  • Family Law
  • Children's Court

Criminal Law

Our practice can provide highly specialised forensic neuropsychological assessments which can comprehensively and objectively assess a person’s cognitive functioning in relation to their behaviours and the relevant legal question. These are particularly relevant in cases where a person may have an acquired brain injury, neurological disorder, dementia, brain damage associated with extensive substance abuse as well as a wide range of developmental disorders. Dr Susan Pulman and Associates have extensive expertise in conducting forensic assessments and providing independent and objective expert reports for forensic matters at a local, district and Supreme Court level. We have experience working with both victims of crime and offenders. Dr Pulman has specialised expertise in working with victims of child sexual abuse.

Forensic neuropsychological assessments may be particularly useful in the following areas:

  • Fitness to stand trial
  • S32 reports
  • Substantial Impairment
  • Sentencing reports
  • Witness vulnerability
  • Capacity to give evidence
  • risk assessment
  • treatment needs and recommendations
  • malingering
  • victims of child sexual abuse

We provide assessments for a range of bodies including the Office of the Department of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), Legal Aid, Children’s Legal Services, Department of Family and Community Services (FACS), the Intellectual Disability Rights Service (IDRS) and the NSW Police.

Fitness to stand trial

Fitness to stand trial is a fundamental legal question involving specific legal criteria. An individual must meet relevant legal criteria as the minimal standard in order to stand trial. When the question of fitness has been raised in relation to an individual’s cognitive capacity, a thorough cognitive assessment is required. A range of different cognitive skills are needed in order to meet this requirement, including:

  • verbal abilities
  • language skills
  • attention, and
  • memory.

A forensic neuropsychologist is in the unique position of being able to analyse an individual’s cognitive capacity comprehensively and identify how it relates to the specific legal criteria. This is undertaken using objective testing in conjunction with collateral information and clinical interview responses.In addition, a neuropsychologist can often determine the underlying cause of the cognitive impairment and provide an opinion as to whether this will change or remain stable over time.

We have conducted leading research in this field within the Australian legal context and have a number of publications in this area.

S32 reports

Within the local court, individuals who have substantial cognitive impairment including intellectual disability and acquired brain injury can be diverted from the system under an s32 application. Neuropsychologists can provide an objective assessment of an individual's cognitive functioning in accordance with the relevant s32 legislation.

Substantial Impairment

A clinical neuropsychological assessment is often sought to assist in determining whether there is an underlying condition which could have impacted on a defendant's cognitive capacity at the time of the commission of the alleged offence. Such assessments can benefit from the specific skills of the forensic neuropsychologist.

Assessment of "substantial impairment" (previously known as diminished responsibility) requires, primarily, an assessment of whether the person has an abnormality of mind arising from an underlying condition. Secondly the assessment will determine whether the effect of the person's abnormality of mind has a bearing on his or her capacity for understanding events, or for moral judgment or for self control. If the effect of the person's abnormality of mind is substantial, it is important to establish whether it is substantial enough to warrant a charge of murder being reduced to a charge of manslaughter.

Risk assessment

Forensic psychologists use well-researched and developed tools to assist in evaluating a defendant’s risk of offending for violent and sexual behaviours. Formalised tools and forensic interview skills assist in identifying criminogenic risk factors and can provide an indication as to the likelihood of reoffending and also indicate whether these factors are amenable to change. In addition, as neuropsychologists we are also able to comprehensively evaluate a person’s cognitive function which can often impact a person’s behaviour. Combing the forensic and cognitive assessment tools, we can provide a complete assessment to the courts. 

Malingering

Feigned cognitive impairment is an important issue to consider within the legal context. Research indicates that malingering rates are substantially higher in the forensic context than in the general population and should be routinely assessed. Neuropsychologists have specialised skills and training in detecting malingering of cognitive impairment using objective testing methods in conjunction with their clinical skills.

Civil Law

Within the medico-legal context, neuropsychological assessments are conducted to assess cognitive ability and functioning in individuals who may have sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in an accident such as motor vehicle accident or workplace injury. Assessments are also undertaken for individuals who may have sustained a psychological injury during their employment.

Neuropsychological reports are useful for both insurers, employers and solicitors to evaluate a claim including establishing the nature and severity of injury, rehabilitation goals and needs and the future impact on a person’s functioning including return to work. Dr Pulman having worked extensively as a consultant business psychologist is experienced in identifying competencies required for returning to a pre-injury position (e.g. leadership style, attention to detail, persuasiveness, motivational drivers etc.) which may be have changed following a physical or psychological injury or illness.

Dr Susan Pulman and Associates have experience and accreditation to conduct assessments under the Compulsory Third Party (CTP) Scheme and the Lifetime Care and Support (LTCS) Scheme, the Motor Accident Authority (now known as State Insurance Regulatory Authority SIRA) and WorkCover NSW. We are trained and certified in providing return to work assessments, worker’s compensation claims as well as evaluating a person’s cognition as it relates to income protection, total and permanent disability and other insurance policies.

Other civil work we undertake includes:

  • Personal injury
  • NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) including decision making capacity around drafting a will, making lifestyle and financial decisions, driving ability, and consent to medical treatment (see above – link to capacity section)
  • Immigration applications.

Family Law

Dr Susan Pulman has extensive experience preparing reports for the Family Court and the Federal Circuit Court on parenting matters including custody, access and relocation issues.

Children's Court (Care and Protection)

As an Authorised Clinician for the NSW Children’s Court, Dr Pulman is a court appointed expert on child protection matters and has been preparing parenting capacity assessments for the courts for more than 10 years.