What does “unfit to stand trial” mean?

“Unfit to stand trial” is defined in the Criminal Code.

It means that the accused person is unable, because of a mental disorder, to defend against the charge(s) they are facing or to tell their lawyer what they want to do with their case. Specifically, “unfit to stand trial” means:

  1. The accused is not able to understand that they are in a courtroom, who the people in the courtroom are (i.e., the judge, the Crown, their lawyer) and why they are there;
  2. The accused is not able to understand what they are charged with, what kinds of pleas they can enter (i.e., guilty or not guilty), what can happen to them if they plead guilty, or what can happen if they don’t tell the truth in court;
  3. The accused is not able to communicate with their lawyer and tell them, even in basic terms, what they want to do with their case.

If a judge has reasonable grounds to believe that any or all of 1, 2 or 3 are true, a judge will likely order a fitness assessment. An accused who is not “unfit to stand trial” is usually referred to in court as “fit to stand trial” or simply as “fit.”

The law assumes that every accused person is “fit”, unless it is determined by a judge, after a fitness hearing that the accused is “unfit to stand trial.” This is called the “presumption of fitness” and is in the Criminal Code.

To learn more about what happens in a legal matter if the accused is determined to be “unfit to stand trial”, visit Understand What Happens if You’re Still Unfit.