Following discussions between the Litigation Committee of the Law Society and the Medical Council, the following guidelines on medico-legal reports were agreed and subsequently approved by the Medical Council. The guidelines were issued to lawfully registered medical practitioners in a newsletter last June. The relevant extract of the newsletter is published below:
Agreement with the Incorporated Law Society
The Council and the Incorporated Law Society have agreed guidelines on medico-legal reports, as follows:
Request for Medico-Legal Reports:
A patient's doctor has a moral and professional responsibility to supply a medico-legal report on request from the patient's solicitors as failure to comply may lead to a patient being deprived of benefits to which he/she may be entitled. Failure to discharge this responsibility in the interest of a patient will result in the Council taking a grave view of substantiated complaints of this nature. In this respect, the over-riding concern must be at all times the interests of the patient involved and in no circumstances should the delivery of a report be unduly delayed. Attention is drawn to the paragraph in Section D entitled "Information" (ref. pages 28/29 of A Guide to Ethical Conduct and Behaviour and to Fitness to Practise, Third Edition 1989 approved and published by the Medical Council, Dublin, March 1989) wherein it is stated "Doctors may be requested by the legal profession to provide medical reports on patients whom they have treated. There may be no legal obligation on them to furnish such reports but, if they are unwilling to do so, they are required, in the interests of their patients, to provide the necessary information to a colleague who is willing to provide a report". The Council wishes to state that this advice is forthwith withdrawn because of the rule against hearsay. Hearsay evidence is in general inadmissible because the truth of the words cannot be tested by cross examination and also because of their nature the words themselves do not have the sanctity of the oath.
Reasonable time to issue a Medico-Legal Report:
Under ordinary circumstances, it is reasonable to expect that a medico-legal report normally will be provided within two months after the examination or the receipt of the request, whichever occurred last. The solicitor requesting the report should be notified of any unavoidable delay beyond this two month period.
Nature/Type of Report:
A medico-legal report should be objective, the content should be confined to relevant professional matters and supply the information required to facilitate the patient in seeking his/her entitlements. In this context, the doctor should not assume the role of advocate either for or against any person's position, regardless of his/her inclinations. Subjective and extraneous remarks are therefore inappropriate in a medico-legal report.
A doctor who has previously examined or treated a patient is obliged to provide a medico-legal report in respect of the examination or treatment or both when requested to do so by the patient's solicitor. However a doctor is free to decline to make a medico-legal assessment of a condition for which that doctor has not previously examined or treated the patient.
Amount of Fee:
A practitioner is free to charge a fee for a medico-legal report which is reasonable and not excessive in relation to the services performed.