Fitness

In short, those criteria required that the court consider the accused capacity to understand the trial process and provide instructions to his or her representatives.

The question of fitness was historically determined in accordance with what came to be known as the Presser criteria.

In short, those criteria required that the court consider the accused capacity to understand the trial process and provide instructions to his or her representatives.

In 2020, the Mental Health and Cognitive Impairment Forensic Provisions Act 2020 was passed. Section 36 of the new act set out a test for fitness that was, largely based on the Presser criteria.

A person is unfit to be tried if the person “cannot do one or more of the following”:

(a) understand the offence the subject of the proceedings,

(b) plead to the charge,

(c) exercise the right to challenge jurors,

(d) understand generally the nature of the proceedings as an inquiry into whether the person committed the offence with which the person is charged,

(e) follow the course of the proceedings so as to understand what is going on in a general sense,

(f) understand the substantial effect of any evidence given against the person,

(g) make a defence or answer to the charge,

(h) instruct the person's legal representative so as to mount a defence and provide the person's version of the facts to that legal representative and to the court if necessary,

(i) decide what defence the person will rely on and make that decision known to the person's legal representative and the court.

 

Presser

R v Presser [1958] VR 45

“He needs, I think, to be able to understand what it is that he is charged with. He needs to be able to plead to the charge and to exercise his right of challenge. He needs to understand generally the nature of the proceeding, namely, that it is an inquiry as to whether he did what he is charged with. He needs to be able to follow the course of the proceedings so as to understand what is going on in court in a general sense, though he need not, of course, understand the purpose of all the various court formalities. He needs to be able to understand, I think, the substantial effect of any evidence that may be given against him; and he needs to be able to make his defence or answer to the charge. Where he has counsel he needs to be able to do this through his counsel by giving any necessary instructions and by letting his counsel know what his version of the facts is and, if necessary, telling the court what it is. He need not, of course, be conversant with court procedure and he need not have the mental capacity to make an able defence; but he must, I think, have sufficient capacity to be able to decide what defence he will rely upon and to make his defence and his version of the facts known to the court and to his counsel, if any.”