Medical jurisprudence

Autopsy room of the Charité Berlin
Refrigerator in the Forensic Medicine at the Charité Berlin

Medical jurisprudence or legal medicine is the branch of science and medicine involving the study and application of scientific and medical knowledge to legal problems, such as inquests, and in the field of law.[1] As modern medicine is a legal creation, regulated by the state, and medicolegal cases involving death, rape, paternity, etc. require a medical practitioner to produce evidence and appear as an expert witness, these two fields have traditionally been interdependent.[2]

Forensic medicine, which includes forensic pathology, is a narrower field that involves collection and analysis of medical evidence (samples) to produce objective information for use in the legal system.[3]


Paul Zacchias is one of the earliest figures of medical jurisprudence, with association with the Papal States and Catholic church.[4] Zacchias was the personal physician to Pope Innocentius X and Pope Alexander VII, as well as legal adviser to the Rota Romana.[5] His most well known book, Quaestiones medico-legales (1621-1651) established legal medicine as a topic of study.[6] Zacchias work contains superstitious views on magic, witches, and demons which were widely held at the time.[7]

Medical jurisprudence had a chair founded at the University of Edinburgh in 1807, first occupied by Andrew Duncan, the younger. It was imposed on the university by the administration of Charles James Fox, and in particular Henry Erskine working with Andrew Duncan, the elder.[8]