Proposal to include psychologists in fitness-to-plead tests

Today’s proposal by the Law Commission to include psychologists in wider tests to assess defendants’ mental fitness when facing criminal charges has been welcomed by BPS President Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes.

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes said: “We are extremely pleased that the Law Commission has recognised the vital role psychologists have to play in criminal justice system.”

The commission, an independent body that reviews laws in England and Wales, said existing rules to decide whether or not a defendant was mentally fit were "out of date, misunderstood and inconsistently applied".  Currently two doctors, including a psychiatrist, advise judges on a defendant's fitness before a trial. However, the commission wants advice from psychologists to be allowed, along with wider testing.

Mr Dee Anand, Chair of the BPS Division of Forensic Psychology, said: “We welcome the opportunity to have our unique skills in understanding the interface between risk of harm to self and others, risk of mental deterioration and risk of offending recognised officially by the Courts to assist in capacity and fit-to-plead assessments.  Psychologists have a great deal of experience working as specialists in mental health. For many years forensic psychologists have been crucial to liaison and diversion services across both civil and criminal courts.

“It is also heartening to see a move towards a less categorical approach to understanding the impact of the judicial process on mental health. We hope this leads to a more progressive approach in understanding mental health.”

Following a BPS response to the Law Commission consultation on this report Dr Ian Gargan and Dr Emily Glorney were invited as BPS representatives at the key symposium held in June 2014.

The Law Commission report can be viewed online.