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summary offences handcuffedIn New South Wales (NSW), the legal system categorises criminal offences into two main types: summary offences and indictable offences. Understanding the distinction between these two categories is essential in comprehending the criminal law framework in NSW.


Summary offences, are less serious offences that are tried and finalised in the Local Court of NSW. These offences are typically associated with lower penalties and shorter sentences compared to indictable offences. People aged 18 or under who commit a crime listed in the Summary Offences Act 1988 must be tried in the Children’s Court. Summary offences are considered less serious than indictable offences, but still have the potential to lead to a jail sentence and a permanent criminal record.


It is sometimes possible to avoid a criminal conviction if one is found guilty of a summary offence, such as through a Section 10 dismissal or a conditional release order. Types of offences mentioned in the Summary Offences Act include using inappropriate language, obstructing roads, underage drinking and not following a search by a correctional officer.

What is the Difference between Indictable Offences and Summary Offences in NSW?

Indictable offences are more serious crimes that carry higher penalties and longer potential sentences. These offences are often complex in nature and require more thorough legal proceedings. Summary offences, on the other hand, are generally considered less serious offences. They are minor in nature and are associated with lower penalties and shorter potential sentences.


Court Jurisdiction


Indictable offences are typically heard in higher courts, such as the District Court of NSW or the Supreme Court NSW. These courts have the authority to handle more serious criminal matters and have the necessary resources to conduct trials and reach verdicts. Summary offences are generally heard in the Local Court. The Local Court deals with less serious criminal matters and has limited jurisdiction compared to higher courts.


Legal Procedures


Indictable offences involve more complex legal procedures. These offences usually require formal indictments or written charges, and the accused person has the right to a trial by jury. The trial process involves presenting evidence, cross-examination of witnesses, and legal arguments from both the prosecution and defence. The legal procedure is now known as EAGP process and requires a case conference and charge certification within 6 months from the date of arrest.


Summary offences involve simpler legal procedures but without the EAGP process and no case conference. The accused person does not have the right to a trial by jury and the matter is resolved by a magistrate in the Local Court. The trial process is less formal and more streamlined compared to indictable offences.


The Criminal Procedure Act stipulates the way these matters need to proceed in different jurisdictions.


Penalties and Sentencing


People charged with indictable offences face more severe penalties and longer maximum years of imprisonment sentences. The specific penalties and sentences vary depending on the nature and severity of the offence.


Indictable offences may result in imprisonment for a term of several years or even life imprisonment. Summary offences are associated with lower penalties and shorter potential sentences. The penalties can include fines, community corrections orderintensive correction orders, or shorter periods of imprisonment.


Complexity and Seriousness


Indictable offences are often more complex in nature and require thorough investigations, gathering of evidence, and legal expertise. These offences typically involve crimes such as murder, sexual assault, fraud, and drug trafficking, which are considered serious in nature. Summary offences are generally minor in nature and involve less complexity. These offences typically include offences such as offensive language, shoplifting, minor traffic violations, and disorderly conduct.


It’s important to note that there can be some overlap between these two categories. Certain offences, known as “Table 1” offences, can be heard either summarily or as an indictable offence, depending on the circumstances and severity of the case.

Summary Offence Examples

Examples of summary offences in NSW include:


  • Offensive language: Using foul or offensive language in a public place can be considered a summary offence in NSW.
  • Shoplifting: The act of stealing goods from a store, such as concealing items and leaving without paying, is categorised as a summary offence.
  • Disorderly Conduct: Behaviours such as fighting in public, causing disturbances, or engaging in threatening behaviour can be considered summary offences.
  • Trespassing: Illegally entering someone else’s property without permission is an example of a summary offence.
  • Minor traffic offences: Certain traffic violations, such as driving with an expired license or exceeding the speed limit by a small margin, are considered summary offences. In addition this may include drink driving offences.
  • Public Intoxication: Being publicly intoxicated, causing a disturbance, or being a public nuisance due to excessive alcohol or drug consumption can be classified as a summary offence.

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Indictable Offences Examples

Indictable offences are more serious crimes that carry higher maximum penalties and longer sentences. These offences are typically heard in higher courts, such as the District Court or the Supreme Court, where more complex legal procedures are followed. Examples of indictable offences in NSW include:


  • Murder: The intentional and unlawful killing of another person is considered an indictable offence, and it is one of the most serious crimes in NSW.
  • Sexual assault: Any non-consensual sexual act, including rape or sexual assault, falls under the category of indictable offences.
  • Robbery: Taking someone’s property by force, intimidation, or threat is considered an indictable offence.
  • Drug trafficking: The illegal selling, manufacturing, or distribution of drugs on a large scale is classified as an indictable offence.
  • Fraud: Engaging in deceptive practices or dishonestly obtaining financial advantage or property, such as identity theft or embezzlement, is considered an indictable offence.

Examples of Indictable Offences Heard Summarily

While some offences are clearly defined as either summary or indictable, certain offences can be heard and dealt with summarily or as an indictable offence. This depends on the circumstances and severity of the case. These are known as “Table 1” offences. Some examples of offences that can be heard either summarily or as an indictable offence include:


  • Assault: Depending on the seriousness of the assault, it can be categorised as either a summary offence or an indictable offence.
  • Theft: The seriousness of the theft, the value of the stolen property, and the presence of aggravating factors can determine whether it is tried summarily or as an indictable offence.

Lyons Law Group has provided legal advice and services to clients facing charges such as traffic violations, DUI, drugs, theft, assault, and domestic violence. Our Parramatta Criminal Lawyers can provide advice on getting Section 10 dismissals, good behaviour bonds, and intervention programs. We will provide assistance throughout the court process to minimise the legal consequences of the offence.


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