Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is the difference between a summary and indictable offence?
In criminal law, you may often hear people talk about summary or indictable offences. There is sometimes a distinction drawn between the two based on the seriousness of offence. However, the main difference between these two types of offences are the mode of trial.
Summary offences are matters that are be tried by a judge alone. If you are charged with a summary offence you do not have the right to have a trial by jury. Matters dealt with in this way usually proceed through the justice system much faster than matters dealt with on indictment.
Summary offences are usually less serious offences such as traffic offences and petty crime. In NSW, summary offences have a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.
For an offence to be a summary offence, the statute that creates the offence must clearly say that it can be dealt with summarily. If it does not, then the offence is an indictable offence.
Indictable offences require a trial by judge and jury. If you are charged with an indictable offence and choose to plead ‘not guilty’, you are guaranteed the right to a trial by jury.
In many jurisdictions there are now what is sometimes referred to as hybrid offences. These are indictable offences that allow the accused to choose whether to have the matter dealt with summarily. That is, the accused can choose not to have a trial by jury and have the matter dealt with by a judge alone.
The benefits of having a matter dealt with summarily are that the matter may be resolved much faster than if you have a jury trial. However, if you are charged with an offence that gives you this option, it is important that you get legal advice before deciding what is best for you.