Fitness to plead in criminal cases

I am a researcher exploring fitness to plead in Crown Court cases. I would be interested to hear from anyone with experience of issues being raised in relation to fitness to plead.

Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act 1964
Powers to deal with persons not guilty by reason of insanity or unfit to plead.

Extract from Mental Health Conditions and Disorders: Draft Prosecution Guidance | The Crown Prosecution Service

If the judge finds the defendant to be unfit to plead, then a jury will determine whether or not the defendant did the act, without consideration of the defendant’s mens rea.

If the defendant is found unfit, the trial must be abandoned.

Extract from Mental Health Conditions and Disorders: Draft Prosecution Guidance | The Crown Prosecution Service (with minor modification) –

If the defendant is not acquitted. The judge has one of the following disposal options:
(a) a hospital order under section 37 of the Mental Health Act (with or without a restriction order);
(b) a supervision order; or
(c) an order for his absolute discharge.

Extract from

Fitness to stand trial is also known as fitness to plead. This refers to whether a person:
*Has the capacity to understand criminal proceedings in court.
*Can understand what they are charged with.
*Can understand the court process.
*Can actively participate in a trial.
*Can understand and know when to challenge a juror on things they object to.
*Needs to understand the evidence.
*Give proper instructions to their legal representative.

Written or oral evidence of two or more registered medical practitioners is required. One Doctor should be Approved under section 12 of the Mental Health Act.

The word ‘fitness’ in this key term is concerned with the mental state of the person at the time of the trial and not the mental state of that person when committing the offence.
This test evolved from common law, but the criteria evolved from case law, specifically that of Mr Pritchard who was regarded as unfit not due to mental illness but related to hearing and speech impairment. In the case of Mr Pritchard, the judge directed the jury that fitness to stand trial depended on the criteria listed below. So simply this test has been split into four areas.
*An appreciation of the charges and potential consequences (specifically the consequences of different pleas).
*An ability to understand the trial process and the potential for the defendant to participate in the process.
*To be able to work collaboratively with their lawyer in their defence.

The effect a defendant’s mental condition has on their ability to understand and comprehend the proceedings is more important than just the of their mental condition.

With relation to point 1-3, if it is found that the defendant does not have sufficient intellect to comprehend the proceedings, they are said to be unfit to plead. With relation to point 4, it is unclear as to what extent this mental condition has to have on the defendant’s ability to comprehend proceedings to be considered unfit. There have been quotes, such as that by Mr Pritchard, which determines the difference between the capacity required to be fit to stand trial and the ‘general capacity of communicating on ordinary matters.’ This emphasises that the fitness to stand trial reflects a different level of capacity and one that is specific to the relevant criteria mentioned above.

The question of fitness to plea, or the argument that the defendant is not fit to plead, can be raised by the defence, prosecution or judge and the burden of proof for this lies in the hands of the party that raised it. The criminal standard is the inclusion of proof that is ‘beyond reasonable doubt must be met by the prosecution. However, for the defence are only asked to provide the civil standard of proof which is ‘on the balance of properties’.

I have done already more than 30 reports for fitness to plead and stand trial.
No major issues at except of one where they have asked me to clarify the fitness to plead further. I mix the Mental Capacity Act with my interpretation of fitness to plead in order to explain it further, fitness to do something is an old 1800s concept but I think the Capacity act helps with this. This issue arose from a patient where he had three reports. Two of them, including mine, said the person is not fit. The third one said it had. We are all going to court to clarify, All of the three expert witnesses.

That is really interesting thank you. I get the impression it is not unusual to have more than two reports before the court which makes the decision for the judge difficult.