Fitness to Stand Trial in Ireland: An Investigation into Attitudes and Legal Decision-Making

Cogley, Ryan (2022) Fitness to Stand Trial in Ireland: An Investigation into Attitudes and Legal Decision-Making. Masters thesis, SETU Waterford.

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This study investigated whether gender, race, punitiveness, and perceptions of mental illness influenced attitudes and legal decision-making in fitness to stand trial (FST) proceedings through the use of surveys and a vignette, with a sample of legal professionals and legal professionals in training. This approach was enacted as most FST research typically examines current legal frameworks and evaluation-related matters and does not offer an insight into how the aforementioned variables can influence the decision-making or attitudes of legal professionals. Previous research suggests that legal decision-makers are significantly influenced by their own personal prejudices, biases and beliefs when making decisions which thus may affect the treatment of a defendant at trial. Understanding if this is present in Irish FST practices may serve to create a platform in which issues in FST law can be addressed and refined to enhance FST practices. Applying an exploratory, online, quantitative methodology, the present study recruited a sample of N=99 legal professionals and future professionals in Ireland. The participants responded to a set of questions after reading a hypothetical vignette court situation in which a defendant’s FST was raised, in addition to several surveys which measured their attitudes regarding the relevancy of FST indicators (Competency to Stand Trial Scale), punitiveness levels (Punitive Attitudes Scale) and attitudes toward mental illness (Stigmatizing Attitudes Believability Scale). The results of the study show that the participants endorsed the majority of items (22 out of 26) in the CST Scale as relevant to finding a defendant fit or unfit to stand trial. Regarding the factors that can influence FST attitudes, the study found that females were more likely to support the items in the CST Scale as relevant than males (p=.019). However, participant race did not hold an influence here (p=.504). Additionally, the race and gender of the participant did not influence whether they found the defendant fit or unfit to stand trial in the vignette case, highlighting that these demographics may not be influential in FST decision-making; this contrasts with previous literature which states that females are more likely to find a defendant ‘unfit’ and be accepting of the use of psychology in court than males. In the same regard, the gender and race of the defendant in the vignette case did not significantly affect the decisions returned, again contrasting with prior literature which argues that females are more prone to be deemed ‘unfit’ than males, and Black defendants are more likely to be found ‘unfit’ than White defendants. Although punitiveness and attitudes toward mental illness were significantly correlated with each other and the CST Scale, these extra-legal attitudes were determined to not be significantly predictive of FST decision-making. The study concludes that legal decision-making biases and prejudiced attitudes may not hold a significant influence over FST decision-making, which is in line with what is expected of legal decision-makers. The findings are discussed in further detail in the discussion chapter alongside the study’s limitations (including a small sample size, methodological flaws) and implications for future research. The knowledge gained from this study contributes to addressing a gap in FST literature regarding attitudes and decision-making of legal professionals. It is hoped that this study will encourage further exploratory research in theory and empirical FST research.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Law Ireland, Mental illness
Departments or Groups: *NONE OF THESE*
Divisions: School of Humanities > Department of Applied Arts
Depositing User: Derek Langford
Date Deposited: 14 Sep 2022 14:36
Last Modified: 14 Sep 2022 14:36

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