Mason’s Forensic Medicine for Lawyers – Book Review

Mason’s Forensic Medicine for Lawyers – Book Review


This book, at just over 400 pages, is a welcome, and welcoming, guide to medicine and medical issues presented by the interaction between law and what is a daunting and complex topic. The sixth edition has been prepared by two forensic pathologists and two barristers practising out of Doughty Street Chambers, with the help of others.

The book navigates practitioners through complex issues with reference to clearly drawn diagrams and simple explanations, seemingly neither patronising nor inappropriately assuming knowledge. Sections are helpfully rounded off with a “further reading” section directing the reader to relevant journal articles and sections in textbooks, however faced with a list of textbooks and no method by which to determine which may be preferable on a particular issue, the lists have the potential to appear a little overwhelming.

The book starts with a guide to anatomy and physiology which, although essential in a book such as this, is also the least useful part – for an overview nowadays there is (whisper it) Wikipedia, and if you are going into greater depth, then this would be done in conjunction with an expert who has been instructed.

The book proper then starts with a look at the coroner’s court and the way that the state and medical experts deal with death. For many criminal lawyers this is an area about which they know little, but always secretly feel that they should do.

The next part looks at the different situation where a medical expert could be instructed; basically a look at the different ways that a person can kill or injure themselves. This starts with a section on wounding which is rather general and unlikely to greatly assist a practitioner experienced in such matters, however it does provide a good introduction to the issues which may be useful and comforting for junior practitioners and students. In that respect, this title appears to tread the line between the two rather well, in what is an ambitious endeavour; attempting to cater for students and practitioners. That said, short sections on interpreting bruises would no doubt come in handy in practice.

One criticism would be the sections that contain an overview of the criminal law in the relevant area. In a book aimed at lawyers this is redundant. Although it may be that medical practitioners, and other non lawyers, would wish to use the book as well.

What is most useful is the sections on how matters work in practice – how record keeping works being one example, the role of an FME as another. This is the sort of guidance that is invaluable to a practitioner. Ultimately, in analysing the ins and outs of a particular medical problem, a lawyer will defer to an expert and the manner in which a report is produced is straightforward. It is the nitty gritty of what a medical professional actually does that is something that an expert will almost certainly not cover.

More complex topics include helpful “Problem areas” sections, guiding the reader through issues that, presumably in the authors’ experience, can and have, caused issues in the past. These sections are clearly aimed towards practitioners and provide useful practical guidance, answering questions ranging from the basic to the very complex. In this respect, this book is a valuable tool for practitioners when the medical issues in their case stretch beyond the basic and everyday.

It is easy to be critical, and in any book it is possible to find something that could be done differently. At £80 however, this book packs a lot in for a relatively modest price. It is a useful addition to every chambers or firm.

Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.