De Vos NO v Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development: The constitutionality of detaining persons unfit to stand trial
Section 35 of the Constitution protects an accused’s right to a fair trial. In order for an accused to make a substantial defence, both his physical and his mental presence is required in court. The incapacity of an accused person to understand criminal proceedings in a court will affect his right to a fair trial. Section 77 of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 deals with the treatment of persons who are unable to stand trial because they suffer from a mental illness. In a recent Constitutional Court decision, the constitutionality of Section 77 was challenged by two accused persons who were incapable of understanding trial proceedings as result of the mental illnesses from which they suffered. The section was found to infringe an accused’s right to freedom and security of the person. In the note that follows, the Constitutional Court decision of De Vos NO v Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development 2015 (1) SACR 18 (WCC) and (CCT 150/14)  ZACC 21, pertaining to the Section 77 right of an accused, is discussed and analysed.