Topic: Do Australian laws relating to fitness for trial of summary offences protect the human rights of persons with intellectual disabilities?

Presenter: Ms Betheli O’Carroll - PhD Candidate, TC Beirne School of Law

Fitness to plead to summary criminal offences is a neglected issue in many Australian jurisdictions. In Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales, the Northern Territory and the Commonwealth there is no legislation that provides for determining the fitness to plead of an accused charged with a summary offence. Generally, there is no legislation that allows magistrates or a jury to determine if a person is fit to plead to summary matters, or that allows summary matters to be referred to the Queensland Mental Health Court. 

This thesis uses a human rights framework to examine the way in which summary courts deal with people who have an intellectual disability and may be unfit to plead. An examination of the current legislative responses and recent case law is used to identify and assess human rights concerns. 

The presentation includes an overview of the legislative framework throughout Australia, a consideration of the decision in R v AAM; ex parte A-G (Qld) [2010] QCA 305, and a discussion about the human rights concerns raised by this case. These include reasons why pleas may be accepted from persons who are unfit to plead and whether the criminal justice system encourages persons with intellectual disabilities to plead. 

All welcome, please register by emailing Beth Williams.

Contact: Beth Williams, ph: (334) 69350, email:

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