Maastricht University supports the discredited Prof. De Ruiter
The Dutch Institute for Psychologists (NIP), which recently reprimanded Prof. Corine de Ruiter, wants to speak about this with UM psychologists. The Executive Board states that they have “complete faith” in De Ruiter. The Faculty of Psychology and Neurosciences has created a committee of “eminent persons” to investigate the matter.
De Ruiter acted as an expert witness for lawyer Monique S. who was suspected of having conned her customers. The lawyer, however, claimed that her husband, the deceased PVV member of the Provincial Council Jos van Hal, had pressurised her into committing fraud. This claim was supported by De Ruiter’s expert report.
The NIP admonished De Ruiter because in her report she attributed qualifications to Van Hal (psychopathic tendencies) and his mother (schizophrenic), without ever having seen or spoken to them. According to the NIP, that is in violation of the professional code of conduct.
The NIP has based its conclusion on incomplete and factually incorrect information from an article in daily newspaper NRC and the court clerk’s minutes, De Ruiter writes in a blog. She claims that she has never referred to the mother as being “schizophrenic”, but states that Van Hal had called her schizophrenic. NIP has never seen the forensic report (1,500 pages), says De Ruiter.
“Then you don’t understand what it is all about,” says Prof. Harald Merckelbach, who has also been called up as an expert witness on many occasions. “You miss the context. The discussions in the courtroom are the tail end of the report. Besides, a clerk does not write down every word that is said.”
According to De Ruiter, the real problem lies a lot deeper. Disciplinary tribunals – like the NIP’s – are unfamiliar with the field of forensic psychology, which to this day is a non-recognised specialism. They apply a therapeutic yardstick to forensic psychologists and assess them wrongfully on clinical criteria. But this is not about the treatment of patients, or setting diagnoses, but about establishing the truth.
Merckelbach: “It is a good point of departure to see and speak to people first, but as an expert witness this is not always possible. And sometimes it is not even all that useful. For example, a father will be quick to deny that a child’s injuries are the result of maltreatment. ‘Little Johnny fell down the stairs, that’s all.’ The danger with the present disciplinary rules is that forensic psychologists no longer call a spade a spade, they make ‘on the one hand-on the other hand’ statements, so as not to get themselves in trouble. I would personally like disciplinary cases to be made public, just like court cases. You want to know what is being said there.”
In the US, De Ruiter writes, the American Psychological Association – the NIP’s sister organisation – already drew up specific professional requirements for forensic psychologists in 1991. This would be a good thing in the Netherlands too, she e-mails. “With the present professional code [for all psychologists], forensic psychologists cannot do their work properly.”
On the initiative of the Executive Board, which has complete “faith in De Ruiter’s educational and research work,” a faculty committee will look into the “frameworks for acting and testing”. Merckelbach: “What will also be looked at, is the option to leave the NIP and switch to, for example, the National Register of Legal Experts.”
The NIP does not want to comment on the content of the case because the statements made are confidential. “The fact that one of these parties has made them public, does not change anything,” says spokesperson Arjen Konijnenberg. After consultation with the chairman of the Professional Standards committee, he informed us: “The NIP will gladly partake in a discussion with the psychologists in Maastricht about what they feel is an omission in the professional code.”
De Ruiter was reprimanded twice before, which, by the way, has no consequences for practicing her profession. She is still considering whether to appeal against the decision. The NIP’s disciplinary tribunal is becoming a running gag, Merckelbach writes in a blog (together with Melanie Sauerland, Henry Otgaar and Ewout Meijer). “The joke that is going around is that you are only a proper expert if you have been severely reprimanded by the board.” This is also what happened years ago, said Merckelbach, to the famous forensic psychologists Willem Wagenaar and Hans Crombag.