‘A Practical Guide to Fitness to Plead and Insanity in the Crown Court and Magistrates Court’ by Alex Matthews


Paperback: 978-1-916698-02-4
Published: December 2023
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SKU: B0326 FITNESSTOPLEAD Categories: , Tags: , ,


The Criminal Justice System is at the forefront of the mental health crisis. As a result of underfunding of both the healthcare sector and the justice system advocates find themselves dealing with an ever increasing number of defendants with severe mental health issues, often at a point of crisis within the criminal courts.

This book endeavours to assist those who represent people within the criminal courts with mental health which impacts on their ability to enter a plea, stand trial, or withstand the trial process. “Fitness to plead” law and procedure is explored both with regards to the Crown court and magistrates’ courts as is the lack of provision for those for whom “effective participation” is a key issue, even if their mental health concerns “fall short” of a disorder which might trigger fitness to plead provisions.

The book also explores the “special verdict” of insanity alongside the defence of “automatism” and the relationship between the two. Stopping short of ‘partial defences’ such as diminished responsibility, this book focuses on the immediate issues that face junior practitioners on their feet in the Crown and magistrates’ court.

Representing the most vulnerable within the justice system requires a rigorous understanding of the legal framework underpinning the area and in particular of the ways in which a court can dispose of a case. The book aims to provide practitioners a brief summary and introduction to the area, and guidance as to the most common issues which arise.


Called to the bar in 2012, Alex Matthews is a specialist criminal barrister at 9BR Chambers.

She acts for both prosecution and defence across a wide range of cases such as sexual offences, firearms, explosives and serious violence through to fraud.

Alex has particular experience representing vulnerable clients within the criminal justice system from youths to those with severe mental ill health. Through this experience she developed an interest in the law of this area both in its current form, and in relation to its proposed reform.

As part of her specialism in protest law Alex has dealt extensively with the complex law in that area and has a consequence also been published in Archbold Review.

Having been appointed both to the Criminal Bar Association and South Eastern Circuit committees (the latter as the Recorder of the South Eastern Circuit) Alex is an active participant in circuit life.

Alex is a Rape and Sexual Offences panel prosecutor and an established grade 3 advocate for the Crown Prosecution Service.


Chapter One – Information Gathering
Chapter Two – The Magistrates’ Court
Chapter Three – Crown Court
Chapter Four – Insanity
Chapter Five – Automatism
Chapter Six – Conclusion: Reform and The Future