Fitness to plead

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In the law of England and Wales, fitness to plead is the capacity of a defendant in criminal proceedings to comprehend the course of those proceedings. The concept of fitness to plead also applies in Scots law. Its United States equivalent is competence to stand.


If the issue of fitness to plead is raised, a judge is able to find a person unfit to plead. This is usually done based on information following a psychiatric evaluation.

In England and Wales the legal test of fitness to plead is based on R v Pritchard. The accused will be unfit to plead if he is unable to either:
  • to comprehend the course of proceedings on the trial, so as to make a proper defence;
  • to know that he might challenge any jurors to whom he may object;
  • to comprehend the evidence; or
  • to give proper instructions to his legal representatives.Prichard (1836) 7 C & P 303.

If the issue is raised by the prosecution, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the defendant is unfit to plead.Robertson 1 WLR 1767. If the issue is raised by the defence, it need only be proved on the balance of probabilities.Podola 1 QB 325.

In Scotland the test is based on HMA v Wilson, and has two elements:

  • to be able to instruct counsel and
  • to understand and follow proceedings.


The question of unfitness to plead is determined by a judge.Criminal......
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