AuthorRichard D. Schneider; Hy Bloom
A central objective in the criminal trial process is fairness. The guar-
antee of a fair trial is and should remain a court’s paramount concern,
especially in light of the risks the accused faces. These include dep-
rivation of liberty, penal sanctions, and a criminal record, as well as
potential psychological consequences such as harm to self-esteem and
damage to one’s dignity. The rules regarding tness to stand trial are in
place to help ensure that the accused receives a fair trial. “Fitness” varies
as a function of an accused’s mental state and its determination there-
fore constitutes a fundamental mental health issue in the criminal trial
process. In fact, the issue of tness is the most common matter that
brings mental health professionals and the courts together. While a sta-
tistical gure for the frequency with which the issue of tness to stand
trial is raised in criminal proceedings in Canada is not available, it is
raised considerably more oen than lack of criminal responsibility. In
the United States, a defendant’s “competence to stand trial” is raised as
a concern by defence counsel in 10 to 15 percent of cases.1
The need for an accused to be t at the time he or she faces trial
is an entrenched principle of common law, born of the demand for
fairness. It may be trite to say that fairness has always been a founda-
tional principle of law at most any time in the evolution of judicial
1 Steven K Hoge et al, “Attorney-Client Decision-Making in Criminal Cases: Client
Competence and Participation as Perceived by Their Attorneys” (1992) 10:3 Behav-
ioural Sciences and the Law 385; Norman Poythress et al, “Client Abilities to Assist
Counsel and Make Decisions in Criminal Cases: Findings from Three Studies”
(1994) 18:4 Law and Human Behavior 437.

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