Fitness to plead or stand trial

Fitness to plead or stand trial in criminal proceedings is whether a person has the capacity to understand the criminal proceedings at court. The issues that need to be considered are whether the individual can understand what they are charged with, the court process and whether they can effectively participate in a trial. The individual will need to understand and know when to challenge jurors to which they may object to and they need to understand evidence and to give proper instructions to their legal representative.

If the individual is unable to do any of the above then they may not be able to have a fair trial and may not be fit to plead or stand trial. An individual will not be fit to plead or stand trial if s/he is under any disability which maybe a mental impairment or a severe learning disability. This would be determined by a psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist will also need to consider whether the court process could be adapted in such a way as to allow an individual who is apparently unfit to effectively participate in their trial. Measures such as appointing a trained individual (an intermediary) to sit with them during the trial to assist with understanding and communication, giving evidence through a video link, allowing regular breaks along with other steps are available to the court.

Fitness to plead issues may also occur when an individual has made a confession during a police interview. Some individuals may be suggestible and prone to making a confession to the police and care should always be taken by the police officers when questioning people who suffer from mental disorders and they should always have an appropriate adult present at the police station.

In some circumstances a confession by a mentally disordered offender may be excluded under section 76 or 78 Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Archbold 15-354 – 15-37 this means that a police interview could be excluded.

If there is doubt over a defendant’s fitness to plead or stand trial then a psychiatrist will assess that person and determine whether in their opinion that person I fit to plead and/or stand trial. A second psychiatrist’s opinion must be sought before the Judge makes the final decision. If it is deemed that the person is ‘unfit’ then a trial of facts takes place whereby the jury or court decides whether the person did the act or omission. If the jury or court finds the person did commit the act or omission then when a Judge sentences the person they must be made subject to either a hospital order, a supervision order or an absolute discharge.

If you know someone who the police wish to speak to or that have been charged and you are concerned of their understanding please contact a member or our team who will be able to assist at either our Loughborough, Leicester or Coalville office.