Macquarie University
01whole.pdf (1.14 MB)

Cognitive abilities and expert assessment practices in fitness to stand trial evaluations : an Australian study based on the legal standard of Presser

Download (1.14 MB)
posted on 2022-03-28, 14:39 authored by Amanda J. White
Background: Fitness to stand trial (FST) is a cornerstone of western legal systems. Mental health experts play a crucial role in assisting the courts’ fit or unfit determinations. Research has identified psychiatric variables and cognition as important for FST. However, the specific cognitive abilities relevant to FST remains largely untested. Further, there is no research examining these variables within the Australian legal context. Aims: The aim of the current body of research was to examine the role of cognition in FST assessments within an Australian context and in relation to the legal criteria of R v Presser. Methods: The aim of the research reported in the present thesis was achieved by: 1) conducting a systematic literature review evaluating the evidence for specific cognitive abilities in predicting FST; 2) evaluating FST reports produced in NSW (2005-2010) in order to determine the evidence for specific cognitive abilities, psychiatric disorders and neurological dysfunction impacting FST and to inform expert assessment practices; 3) conducting semi-structured interviews with lawyers and forensic mental health experts in order to evaluate views regarding the role of europsychological assessment in FST cases and the relevance of cognitive abilities. Results: Findings suggested that cognitive abilities, specifically verbal memory, nonverbal abilities and executive functioning, were relevant to the question of FST within the Australian legal context. Neurological disorders were also important in predicting a defendants' FST. Expert assessment techniques were highly variable. Reporting on the legal criteria of Presser was also variable. Finally, lawyers and mental health practitioners acknowledged an important role for neuropsychology within FST assessments; however understanding about the discipline of neuropsychology and its application was limited. Several key areas of improvement were identified and recommended. Implications: Further research exploring the relationship between specific cognitive abilities and FST determinations is warranted as well as further education for both lawyers and forensic mental health experts conducting FST assessments in order to improve the quality and standard of FST reports.


Table of Contents

1. Introduction -- 2. Psychology and fitness to stand trial -- 3. The role of cognition in fitness to stand trial: a systematic review -- 4. The role of cognitive assessment in determining fitness to stand trial -- 5. Fitness to stand trial in one Australian jurisdiction: the role of cognitive abilities, neurological dysfunction and psychiatric disorders in fit and unfit defendants -- 6. Fitness to stand trial: views of criminal lawyers and forensic mental health experts regarding the role of neuropsychological assessment -- 7. Discussion -- 8. References -- Appendices.


Includes bibliographical references "Empirical thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Combined Masters of Psychology (Clinical Neuropsychology)/ Doctor of Philosophy". Thesis by publication.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Psychology

Department, Centre or School

Department of Psychology

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Jennifer Batchelor


Copyright Amanda J. White 2015.




1 online resource (232 pages)

Former Identifiers


Usage metrics

    Macquarie University Theses


    Ref. manager