Mental Health in the Courts -Part 2

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Mental Health in the Courts- Part 2

The criminal courts often deal with serious Mental Health issues. These issues can determine the outcome of the case. If you are charged with an offence and are suffering from mental health issues it’s important to let your lawyer know about these as they could make a difference in how your case is dealt with.

Fitness to Stand Trial

An accused has a right to a fair trial at all stages of the case. As part of this, it is necessary that the an accused is able to participate meaningfully in the trial. In other words, that the person understands the basics of the process.  It is necessary to understand the nature of the proceedings and the possible consequences and to be able to communicate with counsel to seek and receive legal advice. This is the test for fitness to stand trial in the criminal courts.

There is a presumption of fitness. An accused is presumed fit to stand trial unless the court is satisfied at a fitness hearing that an accused is unfit to stand trial. This hearing may be requested by the accused or the Prosecutor or may be directed by the Court at any stage of the proceedings. A Psychiatric assessment is generally ordered to assist in the determination of whether or not a person is fit to stand trial.

If a person is found fit to stand trial, the case continues through the courts.

If, however, a person is found unfit to stand trial and the court does not make a summary disposition there is usually a remand to a psychiatric hospital. At this point the person comes under the jurisdiction of the Alberta Review Board which holds regular hearings in relation to the person.

Sometimes, after a stay in hospital, the person becomes fit to stand trial. If this happens, the case is referred back to the courts, ultimately to continue through the courts.

If a person continues to be unfit to stand trial, there is a mandatory court review every two years to ensure the case against him is still sufficiently strong to put the accused on trial.

To properly address fitness issues you need the help of a skilled lawyer, knowledgeable in the area. Contact an experienced mental health defence lawyer. Contact my office for a free consultation.