What is the difference between summary and indictable offences?
There are many different terms used in the legal system, which can be often confusing for the average person. If someone is arrested and charged with an offence, their offence is categorised based on the seriousness of it. This influences which type of Court the matter is heard in, as well as the penalties that are applied as a result.
There are two types of main charges for offences which are referred to as “indictable offences”, and “summary offences”.
What is an indictable offence?
Indictable offences are serious in nature and can be dealt with in the Magistrates, District Court or Supreme Court. Indictable offences carry a maximum penalty that can exceed two years’ imprisonment.
Once arrested, the accused is issued with an indictment. This is a formal document describing the charges they are facing and requests the accused to attend Court to answer the charges. This initiates the criminal proceedings.
There are several offences that are classified as indictable offences, such as:
- Corrupt practices
- Escaping from lawful custody
- Offences relating to drug misuse and trafficking
These are further labelled into ‘major’ and ‘minor’ indictable offences, as determined by the seriousness of the charge, which Court the matter is heard in and the penalties it attracts.
What is a summary offence?
On the contrary, summary offences are considered to be less serious than indictable offences, and generally carry a maximum penalty of no more than two years imprisonment.
Some examples of summary offences include:
- Disorderly or offensive behaviour
- Minor assault.
- Road traffic offences such as careless or dangerous driving
- Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Minor criminal or property damage.
When charging someone with a summary offence, the legal proceedings must commence within six months of the offence occurring. These legal proceedings are heard by the local Court in front of a Magistrate and without a jury present. The local Court cannot impose a penalty of more than 2 years’ imprisonment.
Key differences between summary and indictable offences
- An indictable offence is more serious than a summary offence.
- A summary offence must be convicted within 6 months. There is no time limit attached to an indictable offence.
- Summary offences carry a maximum penalty of no more than 2 years imprisonment compared to indictable offences which can carry maximum penalties of much more than 2 years imprisonment.
- Summary offences are heard by the local Court. Indictable offences can be heard by the Magistrates, District Court or Supreme Courts in front of a judge and jury.
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One of the key takeaways of this is that in many instances, indictable offence can be prepared and heard by the local Court rather than the District Court. A qualified and highly experienced criminal lawyer can assist you to achieve this outcome, which could attract a lesser penalty. Our team of lawyers are experienced criminal practitioners and are ready to assist you with legal advice and guidance in this area.