Crime CLVIII-Insanity XV

With regards to the defendant’s fitness to plead, and with reference to s.4 of the Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act 1964 (unfitness to plead - s.4 only applies to those with disabilities) whether a defendant is fit to plead or otherwise is determined on a balance of probabilities i.e. the test that is used is the objective test or the reasonable man’s test.

In R v M (John) (2003) the defendant was tried on various sexual offences committed against a minor when she was aged between the ages of 8 – 10. The defendant was her grandfather. According to medical reports the defendant suffered from short term memory loss which was the result of excessive drinking over a prolonged period. The trial judge set a threshold to determine if the defendant was fit to plead, given his circumstance (if the defendant cannot understand the charges against him than he is unfit to plead see R v Pritchard (1836) and the verdict that is to be returned is not guilty by virtue of insanity 1831 (York assizes)). The jury found that the defendant was fit to plead or could understand the charges against him and convicted. The defendant appealed.

The appeal was dismissed. It was decided that the jury could find the defendant unfit to plead if the defense could establish on a balance of probabilities that the defendant was incapable of: -

1) understanding the charges against him.
2) deciding to plead guilty or otherwise
3) exercising his right to challenge jurors
4) instructing solicitors and counsel
5) following the course of proceedings
6) giving evidence

Otherwise the defendant is fit to plead.

Copyright © 2019 by Dyarne Ward


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