Wednesday, 6 January 2021

Assessment of Fitness to Plead (Capacity to Stand Trial) Pritchard Criteria

Assessment of Fitness to Plead (Capacity to Stand Trial) Pritchard Criteria


To stand trial, the accused should be able to describe his behaviour and whereabouts at the time of the alleged offence, understands what happens in the courtroom and understands the role of the courtroom personnel, instruct his solicitor, distinguish between various pleas and understand the range and nature of verdicts.

Pritchard Criteria

In the law of England and Wales, fitness to plead is the capacity of a defendant in criminal proceedings to comprehend the course of those proceedings. Its equivalent in the United States and Canada is ‘competence to stand trial.’ If the defendant raises fitness to plead, a judge will decide whether an individual fit to plead, usually following a psychiatric evaluation. 

To decide whether a patient is fit to plead, it is important to determine the extent to which the defendant can: 

  1. Understand the nature of the charge
  2. Understand the difference between pleading guilty and not guilty
  3. Follow the course of proceedings on the trial
  4. Challenge any jurors to whom they may object
  5. Understand the evidence presented in the court
  6. Instruct their legal representatives properly
Similarly, in the US, a person is competent to stand trial “if he has a sufficient ability to consult his legal representative with a reasonable understanding and has a rational and factual understanding of the court proceedings.” 

Assessment of Capacity to Stand Trial 

Begin by asking about the offence:
  • Who committed the crime?
  • Is there anyone whom you injured?
  • Were you drinking or under the influence of a substance at the time?
  • Why did the police arrest you?
  • Have you previously been to the court?
  • What do you know about the proceedings of the court?
  • What is your source of information?
  • Do you know the role of the judge in a court of law?
  • Do you have a counsellor? If they do not have one enquire whether they would like to.
  • Do you know if we can appoint one?
  • Do you know what the role of a solicitor?
  • Do you intend to plead guilty or not guilty? follow this question up with the reasons in their mind.
  • Why do you intend to do so?
  • Do you know how your decision will affect you?


  • Understand the nature of the charge.
  • Understands the difference between pleading guilty and not guilty.
  • Instruct counsel.
  • Challenge jurors
  • Follow the evidence presented in court.

>> A person may suffer from a severe mental disorder but still be fit to stand trial.


  1. Harrison P, Cowen P, Burns T, Fazel M. Shorter Oxford Textbook of Psychiatry. 7th ed. Oxford University Press; 2017:896-896.P528
  2. Dusky vs United States(Dusky v. the United States:: 362 U.S. 402 (1960) :: Justia US Supreme Court Center, 1960)

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