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‘Unfit’ murder criteria may change

‘Unfit’ murder criteria may change

Defendants who are classified as "unfit to plead" could be tried under new plans which would examine their ability to make decisions instead of their understanding of the court proceedings, the body responsible for reviewing the law in England and Wales has said.

The decisions would not have to be "rational or wise" for the trial to proceed, as the emphasis will be on the decision-making process rather than the decision itself, the Law Commission said.

Under the plans, a jury in a murder case will also have the ability to decide that a defendant, who was suffering from diminished responsibility at the time, carried out the act of manslaughter, a lesser charge, rather than murder.

The use of special measures for defendants who had mental disorders or other impairments will also be increased so that "a number of people who at the moment may be found to be unfit to plead will be able to participate in the trial process".

The commission said the way so-called "unfitness" was defined dated back to 1836 and needed to be "brought into line with modern psychiatric thinking".

Professor David Ormerod, the law commissioner leading the project, said: "The law needs to guarantee justice for the accused, making sure those who are fit for trial are sent to trial, and secure protection for the public.

"We are seeking views on our proposals to change both the way the courts decide whether someone is fit to stand trial and the procedures that should be followed if they are not."

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