The Norwegian Board of Forensic Medicine
The recommendation from the Directorate of Health brought to an end a debate that had gone on for more than 130 years. The Jury Act of 1887 had decided that all doctors were obligated to act as expert witnesses with regard to any matter pertaining to forensic medicine. This was not expedient. The following is reproduced from the chapter 'The history of the Norwegian Board of Forensic Medicine' in the official report Forensic medical expertise in criminal proceedings from 2001 (2), and describes the background for the establishment of the Board of Forensic Medicine:
'In 1893, the Director of Health raised the question of a change in the rules for using the services of expert witnesses in criminal proceedings. This topic had been discussed at a meeting of the Norwegian Association of Criminologists in 1893, at which police surgeon Paul Winge had submitted a proposal for changes. In 186, the Ministry of Justice appointed a committee with a mandate to assess whether a revision of the rules was necessary, and if so, submit proposals for new rules.
The committee submitted its recommendation in June 187. The committee concluded that a reform was called for, in particular with a view to strengthening and developing the role of expertise vis-a-vis the courts. There was some disagreement as to how this could be best achieved. The majority endorsed the establishment of a 'fully competent central institution for forensic medicine to serve the entire country'. As a rationale for this, the importance of 'unity in and a uniform development of the expertise, its work and results was especially highlighted'. The committee disagreed to some extent regarding the composition of the commission.
The commission should have two main functions. First, it should have an advisory role for the experts, who could turn to it for advice in individual cases and on practical matters related to forensic medicine. The commission should also provide guidance to the court, the prosecutor and the public defence counsel as required. The 'administration' should also be able to consult the commission on matters related to forensic medicine. Second, the commission should have a control function, since all expert statements in criminal proceedings should be submitted to the commission.
After a comprehensive hearing round, the matter was presented to the Storting as a request for budgetary allocation. On 30 November 1899, the Storting decided to allocate funds to the running of the Board of Forensic Medicine from 1 July 1900.'
Police surgeon Paul Winge (1857–1920, Figure 1) had been a driving force behind the establishment of the commission, which to his disappointment was not organised quite in line with his views. He would have liked to give it a far more wide-ranging remit than it was granted (3). However, Winge remained a permanent member of the commission from its establishment and until his death in 1920. Winge had earned his doctoral degree in medicine in 1896 and published widely on matters related to social medicine and forensic psychiatry (4).
From its inception, the Board of Forensic Medicine consisted of two groups: a psychiatric group and a so-called general group which assessed expert witness statements on forensic pathology, clinical forensic medicine and other medical questions. For the last twenty years, the commission has consisted of four groups: psychiatry, genetics and toxicology, as well as a group for forensic pathology and clinical forensic medicine. The latter group processes approximately 5000 controlled expert witness statements annually, approximately one-half of all cases presented to the commission. Currently, the commission has a control function, but also undertakes some advisory activities, including holding so-called B-type training courses in the work of expert witnesses for the courts (5). It must be added that experience from the commission's work has reinforced the impression that a specialty in forensic pathology and clinical forensic medicine is needed, along with strengthening the competence in forensic medicine within other medical specialties.