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R v M (John) [2003] EWCA Crim 3452 Court of Appeal

The appellant was convicted of various charges of a sexual nature for offences committed against his partner's granddaughter when she was aged between 8-10. The issue of the appellant's fitness to plead was raised by the defence and a jury was empanelled to try that issue. Medical evidence was that the appellant suffered a serious impairment of his short term memory caused by long term affects of excess alcohol but that he was otherwise capable of understanding the charges against him. The jury found that he was fit to plead his case proceeded to trial where he was found guilty of the charges. He appealed against the jury's finding of fitness to plead on the grounds that the trial judge had set the threshold for fitness too low.


The appeal was dismissed. The Court of Appeal approved the trial judge's direction that the jury could find unfitness to plead if the defence could establish on a balance of probabilities any one of six things that was beyond the appellant's capabilities:

(1) understanding the charges;
(2) deciding whether to plead guilty or not;
(3) exercising his right to challenge jurors;
(4) instructing solicitors and counsel;
(5) following the course of the proceedings;
(6) giving evidence in his own defence.

On the evidence it was open for the jury to find that he was fit to plead. The question is always one for the jury even if the medical evidence supports a finding of unfitness.
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