When you have been charged with an offence, it may be useful to know the classification of the offence. Offences may be classified as a summary, indictable or strictly indictable. The Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW) (‘CPA’) defines an indictable offence as ‘an offence that may be prosecuted on indictment’. A summary offence is defined as ‘an offence that is not an indictable offence.’ According to lawyers in Sydney, while these definitions provide vague insight on the difference between summary and indictable offences, it is generally understood that a summary offence is a minor offence, dealt with in the Local Court that carries a maximum sentence of no more than two years.
An indictable offence is an offence of a more serious nature, dealt with in the District or Supreme Court that carries a maximum sentence of more than two years. Under the CPA certain indictable offences may be dealt with summarily. A strictly indictable offence can only be dealt with on indictment.
The Difference between Strictly Indictable Offence and Summary Offence as Discussed by Lawyers in Sydney
Strictly indictable offences include:
- Assault causing grievous bodily harm (‘GBH’);
- Armed robbery causing GBH;
- Sexual assault;
- Knowingly dealing with proceeds of crime;
- Aggravated dangerous driving causing death;
- Dangerous driving causing death;
- Conducting an unlawful gambling operation;
- Being a member of a terrorist organisation;
- Damaging property with the intent to murder.
This is a non-exhaustive list, but it may be agreed that the offence is those which are perceived to be considered of an extremely serious nature by the community. The offences are considered extremely serious as they are considered to cause extreme harm to the individual or may seriously negate the moral and ethical standards of society e.g. knowingly dealing with the proceeds of crime. It is important to note that there is no time limit to bring a charge for an indictable offence.
By contrast summary offences include:
- Offensive language;
- Obstructing traffic;
- Possession of drugs;
- Damaging property;
- Possession of liquor by minors;
According to lawyers in Sydney, they are generally acts committed by a person which may have a poor reflection on their character but are not considered to cause extreme harm to the community. They may also be seen to negate the moral and ethical standards of society but not to the extremes of an indictable offence.
As mentioned previously, a strictly indictable offence is dealt with in the District or Supreme Court. Under the CPA the proceedings for the offence are commenced in the Local Court. The initial step in proceedings for a strictly indictable offence is known as a ‘committal proceeding’. Committal proceedings allow the court to review the evidence that the prosecution would like to present at trial and see if the case has any merit. Where the Magistrate is of the opinion that the evidence is likely to lead a jury to convict the person charged, they will refer the matter to the District or Supreme Court. There may also be a committal for sentence, where the person charged indicates that they will be entering a plea of guilty and the matter will be referred to the District or Supreme Court for sentencing.
Whether a strictly indictable offence is heard in the District or Supreme Court will depend on the offence. Generally, murder, manslaughter and terrorism offences are heard in the Supreme Court. All other strictly indictable offences are dealt with in the District Court, although the prosecution may elect to have them dealt with in the Supreme Court if the offences relate to a principle offence that is to be dealt with in the Supreme Court.