There has recently been some controversy in Britain regarding a prominent politician. He was due to stand trial for cases of historical child abuse but didn’t because he was shown to have dementia and therefore was deemed to not be mentally capable of standing trial.

This has led to some uproar as people are naturally shocked by the accusations involved. However this does raise a point that should be addressed- in legal terms how is mental capacity defined and at what point is someone deemed unable to face trial?


Broadly speaking the definition of mental capacity in legal terms is defined under the terms of the Mental Capacity Act- if someone doesn’t understand the information they are given regarding a legal matter, if they are unable to retain the information or cannot communicate any understanding of it then they are not deemed to be mentally capable of standing trial.

Of course mental capacity is not only a matter when it comes to standing trial. The classic example is when someone writes a will. Typically it will begin with them stating they are “of sound mind.”

This is crucial because it emphasises that they are able to understand what they are writing when they prepare a will and they know the consequences of their actions.

This doesn’t necessarily mean if they put that in the will that there is no reason to contest it- there may be complications. As more people get remarried and have children with different partners this can become more complicated and there is the danger that issues aside from the mental capacity of the person writing the will may further complicate matters.

Power of attorney

In some instances a person may be aware that they are not physically or mentally able to handle business matters. In this instance a person can be appointed with power of attorney, giving them the ability to run their financial affairs.

Generally speaking it is recommended you choose someone who you can trust and ideally someone who is not a family or friend but has the experience necessary to ensure that your business and any other issues are handled in a sensitive way.

Contact us

If you have a family member and are worried whether they are able to handle their affairs, want to apply for power of attorney or discuss any other issues then you should contact us as soon as possible.

We understand that emotionally these can be difficult issues to deal with and they need to be handled as sensitively as possible. With the right approach we are confident that we can offer the representation that you need.