What does “fit to stand trial” mean?

“Fit to stand ” means that you're mentally able to participate in your criminal case. This is important because you must be able to meaningfully participate in your court proceeding for it to be fair.

Usually, your mental fitness only becomes an issue if , your lawyer, or the Crown tells the judge that they think you may not be fit to stand trial. Sometimes, the judge might be concerned about your fitness if, for example, you're acting in an unusual way in court.

If someone is concerned about your fitness, the judge may try to understand your mental health by asking you some simple questions about what is happening in the courtroom. Your answers will show if you can:

  • understand what's happening with your case
  • understand what's happening in the courtroom
  • understand the consequences of your charges
  • communicate with your lawyer

If the judge is still not sure about your fitness, they will usually order a psychiatrist to assess you. This is called an assessment order. A psychiatrist is a doctor who is an expert in mental health. Read more about assessment orders in Step 2.

After the assessment, the judge will start a fitness . At the fitness hearing, the judge will consider:

  • the opinion of the psychiatrist who assessed you
  • comments and information from you, duty counsel, your lawyer, or the Crown

If the judge decides that you're not able to participate in your case, the judge can order you to get the mental-health treatment you need to be able to participate. This is called a treatment order. Read more about treatment orders in Step 3.

Your mental health can change over time. Even though you were fit to stand trial at the start of your case, if your mental health gets worse, then you might not be fit anymore. Or, if you were unfit when you were first brought into court, you could later be found fit if you took medication that treated your symptoms.

The judge can start a fitness hearing at any time during your case.

Get legal help

If you have a fitness hearing, you have the right to a lawyer. If you don't have a lawyer, duty counsel might be able to help you, or the judge will appoint a lawyer to represent you. You can also apply for a legal aid certificate to hire any lawyer you choose.

Sharing information about your mental health might make you feel uncomfortable. But this information can help the judge to better understand your circumstances and the challenges you face. Tell your lawyer what you're comfortable sharing. You can also ask to be referred to the mental-health court worker.

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