Test of Fitness to Plead in R v Pritchard
To determine whether a Defendant is fit to plead and fit to stand trial the information gathered during the expert witness psychologist assessment must be analysed in the context of the fitness to plead and fitness to stand trial test developed from the case of R v Prichard (1836) 7 C. & P. The test has developed over the years but can be stated as follows:
Does the Defendant Understand the Nature of the Offence?
Part of the assessment of fitness to plead is to test whether an individual understands the nature of the charges they face.
Is the Defendant Able to Comprehend the Evidence?
Defendants may have significant literacy and mental health problems. However, they may be still fit to plead with an intermediary to break the evidence down into a digestible form.
Is the Defendant able to Provide Advice to His or Her Legal Team?
Our expert psychologist evaluates whether a defendant can provide a coherent explanation of events. A defendant may be fit to plead if jury would be able to make adequate sense of the defendant’s evidence.
Additional time and additional support may need to be provided when a defendant is giving his evidence in court.
Typically, our expert psychologists consider whether there are any no apparent signs of delusions or hallucinations. If a defendant can instruct his legal advisers, even with considerable assistance they may be fit to plead.
Is the Defendant able to Understand the Course of Proceedings, So as to Make a Proper Defence?
Connected with this, under the Pritchard criteria, is the defendant’s ability to make a proper defence. Whether or not his version of events is accepted is an issue for the jury to determine.
Does the Defendant Understands the Advice, He or She is Being Given?
If the defendant is able to understand the advice and understand the information necessary to consider that advice properly, they are likely to be fit to plead.
Does the Defendant Understand the Legal Process?
Finally, one must as if the defendant understands the legal process. This means do they understand what the function of a judge is and the judge’s role? If the defendant also understands the role of the prosecution and defence barrister they are likely to be fit to plead and fit to stand trial.
Find Out More About Fitness to Plead and Fitness to Stand Trial
Mental Health and the Law
There is a strong relationship between mental health and the law, as far as the rights of people with mental illness is concerned the World Health Organisation outline 10 basic principles that should protect the rights of people with mental illness:
Mental Health Care Law: 10 Basic Principles - World Health Organisation
- The promotion of mental health and prevention of mental disorders.
- Access to basic mental health care.
- Mental health assessments in accordance with internationally accepted principles.
- Provision of the least restrictive type of mental health care
- Right to be assisted in the exercise of self-determination
- Availability of review procedure
- Automatic periodical review mechanism
- There must be a qualified decision-maker to detain the person
- Respect for the rule of law.
Psychology and the Law
Expert Psychologists who work with individuals who have mental illnesses frequently have two provide expert opinion for the prosecution and defence in criminal cases.
Mental health law includes areas such as the insanity plea, fitness to stand trial and testamentary capacity. Mental health law is also concerned with establishing mens rea and culpability, and compulsory detention.
The intersection between mental health and the law is further developing in the area of forensic evaluation of children and adolescents in child custody, its application to delinquency, maltreatment, personal injury and court-ordered evaluations.
The Mental Health Act 1983
How is Section 2 of the Mental Health Act 1983 Used?
Section 2 of the Mental Health Act provides the ability of mental health professionals to detain and treat people under the Mental Health Act When they are too unwell to care for or make decisions for themselves. The purpose of Section 2 is to ask the patient to come into the hospital for an assessment to determine whether they have a severe end enduring mental illness. Their detention is in the interest of their own health and safety or the protection of other people. Admission under Section 2 normally lasts for 28 days.
How is Section 3 of the Mental Health Act 1983 Used?
A Section 3 of the Mental Health Act is commonly known as a Treatment Order. This means the patient is compulsorily treated in hospital when certain conditions are met. These are that the individual is suffering from a mental disorder which is of such a degree that warrants the person being compulsorily detained in hospital. There must be a risk to the person or other people. The other conditions are, the treatment cannot be given without the Section 3 being in place, and there must be appropriate treatment available. Detention under Section 3 of the MHA can last up to 6 months.