The term competent is used in various contexts, including procedure, evidence, and employment. More generally, it refers to the ability to act in the circumstances, including the ability to perform a job or occupation, or to reason or make decisions.
In both criminal and civil procedure, a court of competent jurisdiction is a court with the power to adjudicate the case before it. Evidence presented in case must also be competent. Competent evidence is that which is admissible, material, and relevant to the fact(s) sought to be proved. Moreover, a competent witness is one who is legally qualified to testify in court.
In a criminal proceeding, a defendant is competent if he or she possesses a sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him or her. A criminal defendant must also be competent to enter a plea.
The term also appears in the context of employment rights. For example, under the California Education Code, competent has been interpreted as referring to the specific skills or qualifications required of an application and does not relate to prior on-the-job performance.
In professional malpractice actions, Mississippi has used the term "minimally competent" to refer to the degree of skill and knowledge that a professional provide. In a state supreme court decision, it was further explained that a minimally competent professional is one whose "skills and knowledge are sufficient to meet the licensure or certification requirements for the profession or specialty practiced."
In the execution of wills, it is also required that the executor be legally competent.
[Last updated in May of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]