School of Humanities

Profile

Kelly-Ann Couzens

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Thesis

Medicine on Trial: A Critical Analysis of Medical Testimony and Medical Expertise in the Scottish High Court of Justiciary, c.1820s-c.1890s

Summary

My thesis examines the changing role, impact and significance of medical testimony and medical expertise in criminal trials for violent crimes at the Edinburgh High Court of Justiciary from the c. 1820s to the turn-of-the-twentieth century. My project is predominantly focused on the contributions and testimony made by those deemed forensic medical “experts” and the historical insights that can be gleaned from a detailed examination of their involvement in criminal trials in this period. In order to focus on the medical “expert” my research investigates the cases which involved four individuals who are linked by a common thread: each held the Regius Chair of Medical Jurisprudence and Medical Police at Edinburgh University at different intervals across the period surveyed. Trials that dealt with violent crimes against the person which were investigated by the four Regius Chairs: Sir Robert Christison, Thomas S. Traill, Sir Douglas Maclagan and Sir Henry D. Littlejohn, form the bulk of my study. This thesis seeks to understand how important the evidence and contribution of the ‘medical expert’ was to major criminal cases, and in what ways the significance of the medical expert’s role was mediated by the nature of public, judicial and medical responses to criminal trials. Through analysing the contribution of these four medical men within the courtroom and lecture theatre, the nature of what defines forensic medical expertise in these contexts (and amidst larger Scottish society) is able to be explored.

Why my research is important

Much of the original contribution of my project to the history of medico-legal relations, lies in the excellent and unique case study Edinburgh provides during this period. A study of the entrenched links between law, medicine and the university system, that manifested in the teaching, patronage and practice of forensic medicine during the nineteenth century will greatly contribute to historical understandings of the development of forensic medicine within nineteenth-century Scotland, whilst expanding the existing historiography on medico-legal relations usually confined to Continental Europe, England and America.

Funding

  • Australian Postgraduate Award (2013-)
  • UWA Safety Net Top Up Scholarship (2013-)
  • Frank Broeze Postgraduate Scholarship (2016)
  • Patricia Crawford Research Award in History (2016)