Definition - What does Competence mean?

Competence / mental competence refers to a person’s ability, qualification or credibility to do a certain thing. In a court of law, it’s important for all testimony being given to come from a source that is truthful and believable.

In general, mental competency refers to an individual's ability to partake in certain activities that require a certain level of mental sharpness. Mental competency is usually inquired about during certain legal proceedings or in times where a potentially mentally incapacitated person could be in charge of something of a serious nature.

If a person is found to be incompetent, then they would not be able to have the benefit of the doubt given to them. Any testimony that an incompetent person gives has to be weighed against the other available testimony. If it is not in line with other testimony, or cannot be backed by a competent individual, it will be discarded.

Justipedia explains Competence

The legal system aims to make the legal process as fair and accurate as possible. Therefore, competence is taken seriously.

A competent person is suitable to stand trial or give testimony in the sense that they have all of their mental faculties and are knowledgeable about the subject being reviewed. If a person is not legally competent, then they would be found unfit to stand trial or to give testimony.

Witnesses, testators and other parties are all judged to make sure that they have the necessary competence to perform their duties. If they are not deemed fully competent, then they can be stripped of their powers.

Witnesses can be classified as incompetent by the court if they do not possess the requisite intelligence to evaluate the circumstances due to a disability, if they have a direct conflict of interest in a case, or if the court believes that they cannot give a credible testimony for another reason.

Courts also become “competent” or qualified to try certain cases once a government body has given them that authority.

Criminals that are found to have committed a crime and are also deemed to be incompetent will be assessed psychologically and can be given terms in mental health facilities in lieu of incarceration. If a defendant's mental competency is called into question during a case, then experts are called in to evaluate the defendant. A recommendation about the person's mental abilities is then relayed to the judge by the experts.

Examples of where competence comes into play include:

  • If a person is to testify in court, that person must be mentally competent to do so. If it is known that the person is not mentally competent due to some sort of disorder that causes the individual to not be able to differentiate between reality and fantasy, then this person will almost surely be unable to testify in court due to their mental incompetence.
  • Another situation in which mental competence is an issue is with a person's finances. If someone’s brain is temporarily or permanently damaged due to an injury, a court will assign another person to be responsible for the injured person's finances due to mental incapacity.
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