On my first day as a junior doctor, trying frantically to remember if I learnt anything useful at medical school, I took four things to work with me: stethoscope, tourniquet, the British National Formulary and the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine. All proved to be invaluable on a daily basis and it is for that reason that the Oxford Handbook has been an essential purchase for every medical student and junior doctor for many years. It was with mixed feelings that I opened a copy of the new Oxford Specialist Handbook of Forensic Psychiatry; same size and feel, with coloured ribbons to mark crucial pages, but would it live up to the iconic status of its well-established predecessor? Would it be a practical and useful, carry-with-you-everywhere guide to forensic psychiatry?
The book is divided into four main parts: clinical forensic psychiatry, the ethics of forensic psychiatry, law relevant to psychiatry and psychiatry within the legal system. In the first section the authors skilfully distil the aspects of clinical disorders that are particularly relevant for forensic psychiatrists. There are thoughtful discussions of common ethical dilemmas throughout the text but also in the specific ethics section. In the section on the law, the three UK jurisdictions are covered in addition to Ireland, with some reference to other legal systems around the world. In the final part, practical advice on court reports and giving evidence is clear and concise. The sum of these parts is an impressive summary of key knowledge required of forensic psychiatrists, written in an engaging and interesting style despite the limits of space.
This is a wonderful book and I was not disappointed. I wish it had been available when I started my training in forensic psychiatry but I will use it frequently in the future. Every forensic psychiatry trainee (and many others besides) should own a copy.