When will a judge usually make a fitness assessment order?
Judges can make a fitness assessment order at any point from the time an accused first appears in court, right up to (or during) sentencing. Most fitness assessments are usually ordered shortly after an accused has made an appearance in bail court.
In fact, if a fitness assessment is ordered, a bail hearing can’t occur until the issue of fitness to stand trial has been decided by a judge. Often, once the accused has appeared in bail court, and the Crown or the accused’s lawyer (or duty counsel) feel the accused may be “unfit to stand trial,” they will be brought in front of a judge to see if a fitness assessment can be ordered. Sometimes, the accused’s lawyer or the accused will ask the judge to make the order. Other times, only the Crown will ask.
In many cases, the accused’s lawyer (or the accused person) and the Crown will ask together. Less often, the judge will make the order after questioning the accused without either the Crown or defence asking for it. If the judge makes an order for a fitness assessment, they will usually send the accused to a secure psychiatric hospital for a period of time.
In some courthouses, there is a psychiatrist available to assess the accused right in the courthouse, so the assessment can occur that same day.