University of Leicester
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Socio-Legal Perspectives on the Procedures for Fitness to Plead and Stand Trial under Indian and English Law

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posted on 2023-04-03, 10:06 authored by Shweta Luthra

The concept of fitness to plead has been a part of English law for centuries, and has been adopted in other Common Law jurisdictions, including India. Although closely linked to the defence of insanity, which is a popular subject in academic literature, preliminary research on trial procedures for persons of unsound mind in India, showed little literary discussion and no empirical research on this subject.

This thesis analyses and compares Indian and English laws relating to fitness to plead and therefore, stand trial with a focus on mental incapacity. In addition to analysing the letter of the law, my research considers this issue through a socio-cultural lens. Since mental disorder is an abstract and fluid concept, I hypothesised that the utilisation and implementation of this law would be influenced by changes in medical definitions and socio-cultural factors.

To understand these influences, I conducted exploratory qualitative research by interviewing lawyers, judges and mental health professionals in India and analysed their experiences with mentally disordered defendants. I compared the findings of my research with the findings of similar research conducted in England to confirm whether opinions regarding the law, and mental disorders influence the frequency with which the issue of unfitness is raised in courts.

I found that rather than flawed legal procedures, it is the absence of knowledge of the law, and attitudes and opinions of persons involved in the implementation of this law that act as deterrents to its utilisation. Additionally, I found that the inability of lawyers and judges to recognise the existence of mental disorders in criminal defendants, hesitation of defendants to admit its existence out of fear of societal stigma, and their unwillingness to seek medical treatment are factors that play a role in the decision to raise the issue of unfitness to stand trial.



Sally Kyd; Tracey Elliott

Date of award


Author affiliation

School of Law

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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