Thursday, 14 January 2016

Modernising the Rules on Unfitness to Plead

The Law Commission wishes to see new rules relating to Unfitness to Plead - a matter that became very topical when Lord Janner was prosecuted in 2015 for alleged sexual offences - (previous post).  Janner died in late 2015.

Law Commission -  Modernising the Rules on Unfitness to Plead

The Commission states that:

"A new test is needed to establish who is unfit to plead. The existing rules for deciding whether a defendant is unfit to participate in a criminal trial – and what the courts should do if they are not – are out of date, misunderstood and inconsistently applied.

Our new report sets out recommendations to modernise the test for unfitness to plead, bringing it into line with today’s psychiatric and psychological thinking. The new test would ask whether the defendant is able to participate effectively in their trial.

We are also recommending a series of measures to help defendants who have participation difficulties to engage effectively in their trial, including a statutory entitlement for defendants to assistance from an intermediary and training for judges and other legal practitioners.

We are also recommending:
  • fairer procedures for considering a criminal allegation where a defendant is unable to participate in a trial, and
  • extending the reformed unfitness to plead procedure to the magistrates’ and youth courts."
 The Commission's report is in two volumes - see Volume 1 Report and Volume 2 draft legislation

The government's response to the report is awaited.

A good article by Miranda Bevan on this topic in relation to Magistrates' Courts and Youth Courts is available via Criminal Law and Justice 6th June 2014 - Unfitness to Plead in Magistrates' and Youth Courts.

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