Andrew Forrester, one of our committee has characterised forensic psychiatry as “a subject so easy to marginalise and to dismiss.” Many members of the public are not sure what specialty is about, it’s something to do with pathology and dead bodies because the title includes the word “forensic”; others may glean their information from the cinema or novels.

An American study of the way in which forensic psychiatry is portrayed written by Gharaibeh (2005) concludes that “the image of psychiatrists/therapists in commercially available movies is not  flattering: close to 1/2 violated boundaries, close to 1/4 committed a sexual boundary violation, and the psychiatrist/therapist was as likely to be incompetent as competent.”

We decided that one way of correcting these mistaken images is to provide a short history or timeline of the subject. It will quickly be seen that forensic psychiatry is seminal to the whole of psychiatry and was demanded as a skill by courts and lawyers before it had much in the way of treatment to offer.