Fitness in the United Kingdom and the United States

AuthorRichard D. Schneider; Hy Bloom
cHapter 9
Fitness in the United Kingdom and
the United States
1) Fitness to Plead
What is referred to as “tness to stand trial” in Canada or “competency
to stand trial” in the United States is, in England and Wales, known as
“tness to plead.” The current test has evolved from the common law
and is based principally on the case ofR v Pritchard, where the judge
directed the jury that tness to plead depended on:
whether [the defendant] is of sucient intellect to comprehend the
course of proceedings on the trial, so as to make a proper defense — to
know that he might challenge [any jurors] to whom he may object — and
to comprehend the details of the evidence . . . . If you think that there is
no certain mode of communicating the details of the trial to the pris-
oner, so that he can clearly understand them, and be able properly to
make his defence to the charge, you ought to nd that he is not of sane
mind. It is not enough that he may have a general capacity of com-
municating on ordinary matters.1
The test is an intellectual one that assesses the accused’s level of
comprehension and communication as well as their ability to instruct
counsel. In R v Berry, the court held that a high degree of (mental)
abnormality did not mean that the accused was incapable of following
a trial, giving evidence, instructing counsel, and so on.2
1 R v Pritchard (1836), 7 Car & P 303 at 304, 173 ER 135 [Pritchard].
2 R v Berry (1876), 1 QB 447.

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