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Fitness to Plead

Professor’s work used to persuade Government to reform “anachronistic” law

The Fitness to Plead test...

In early 2015, the Government will be asked to reform a law that has been on the statute books of England and Wales since 1836.

Fitness to Plead is a legal test which measures whether a defendant can understand the process of the criminal trial which they face.

It is an area of law to which De Montfort University Professor Ronnie Mackay| has dedicated years of research. His work has significantly influenced law reform bodies such as the Law Commission, Ministry of Justice, legislators, policymakers and legal analysts.

He believes that the law as it stands is inadequate and has forced vulnerable people into standing criminal trials when they do not fully understand the legal process.

“The fitness to plead test is based on case law from the 19th century – it is out of step with modern psychiatry and psychology.” said Prof Mackay.

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Exposing legal inadequacies

Unlike more theoretical studies, Professor Mackay’s research has focused on how the law works in reality. His work with psychiatrists, law professionals and policy makers has exposed legal inadequacies and influenced legal change.

His body of work has also includes the insanity defence, which considers the state of someone’s mental condition at the time of the alleged crime, as well as diminished responsibility, provocation and infanticide.

Grants from major funders and public bodies have allowed him to continue his work and share his knowledge.

Professor Mackay’s expertise was sought by the Law Commission (which reviews the law and recommends reform), and the Ministry of Justice, as Parliament passed the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.

His appearances to share his work on the national and international stage have provided numerous opportunities for rigorous intellectual debate, and his research has directly informed and enlivened teaching for thousands of law students.