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Forensic telepsychiatry : a possible solution for South Africa?

M Mars
S Ramlall
S Kaliski


Objective: South Africa has a shortage of facilities and psychiatrists to assess adjudicative competence of prisoners awaiting assessment under sections 77 to 79 of the Criminal Procedures Act of 1977. Various solutions have been proposed by the Department of Health. The recent linking of a Magistrate’s court and a prison by videoconferencing offers the opportunity to implement a forensic telepsychiatry service. The literature on forensic telepsychiatry for assessment of adjudicative competence was reviewed. Method: The electronic databases, PubMed, Scopus, Cinahl and Google Scholar were searched for papers on forensic telepsychiatry. The inclusion criterion was papers reporting the use of videoconferencing for assessment of adjudicative competence or for assessment for referral out of the judicial system, by psychiatrists or psychologists. Results: 411 papers were found of which 13, published between 1997 and 2008 were relevant. The use of videoconferencing for forensic psychiatric assessment was reported from four countries. The courts in those jurisdictions have accepted the use of videoconferencing for assessment and no successful appeals have been mounted on the basis of the use of videoconferencing for assessment. User satisfaction has not been reported for assessing adjudicative competence. Forensic telepsychiatry has been found to be cost effective, improve access to scarce specialist skills and reduce transport of prisoners under guard to hospitals or psychiatrists to prisons. Conclusion: There is nothing in the literature to suggest that a forensic telepsychiatry service is not feasible in South Africa and a pilot project is being planned.

Keywords: Videoconferencing; Telemedicine; Forensic psychiatry; South Africa