What does “fit to stand trial” mean?NewUpdated June 2

1. Understand how fitness hearings start

The law assumes that you’re fit to stand . Usually, your fitness only becomes an issue if your lawyer or the Crown tells the judge that they don’t think you can participate because of your mental health.

Concerns about your fitness can be raised at any time in your criminal case.

In some situations, your lawyer must tell the judge that they are concerned about your fitness. For example, if you won’t give your lawyer instructions about whether you prefer to or have a trial.

The judge can also decide on their own to investigate whether you’re fit to stand trial. For example, the judge might be concerned about your fitness because of how you’re speaking or acting in court.

Reasons for concerns about your fitness

The Crown, , your lawyer, or the judge might be concerned about your fitness if you’re:

  • confused and don’t understand questions that you’re being asked
  • experiencing hallucinations or delusions
  • not able to concentrate
  • not participating, for example, you’re not answering questions about who you are or how you want to plead
  • being disruptive in court, for example, by yelling

The Crown, your lawyer, duty counsel, or the judge should not say they are concerned about your fitness just because:

  • you’re homeless
  • you have a history of being involved in the mental-health system
  • your family wants you to go to the hospital
  • the facts of your case are strange or confusing

Questions to see if you need a fitness hearing

To figure out whether you need a fitness , the judge might ask you to answer questions like:

  • Do you know where you are?
  • What is the role of your lawyer?
  • What is the role of the Crown?
  • What does the judge or jury do?
  • What is an oath?
  • Can you tell your lawyer what happened?
  • What does pleading guilty mean?
  • What could happen if you are found guilty?

You don’t have to answer these questions correctly. But you must show that you understand where you are and what is happening in criminal court.

If the judge thinks you might not be mentally fit, they can order you to get a mental-health assessment. This is called an assessment order. An assessment is a meeting with a psychiatrist who interviews you to make an opinion on your fitness. Read more about assessment orders in Step 2.

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