Criminal offences are usually divided into two types: summary and indictable.
This classification is important for identifying the appropriate criminal procedure in which to finalise the matter. The classification is also important in determining the potential punishments.
Some offences are hybrid and can be tried as summary or indictable offences.
Indictable offences are those which can be “prosecuted on indictment”. An indictment is the formal document filed by the prosecution to begin a “trial on indictment”.
- Describes the charges faced by the accused, and
- Initiates the criminal proceedings.
Indictable offences are generally dealt with before a judge and jury in the District or Supreme Court, and prosecuted by the Department of Public Prosecutions.
Penalties for an offence heard on indictment are more severe than those imposed in the Local Court, and can exceed two years imprisonment.
Summary offences are less serious criminal offences. Common examples include drink driving, indecent exposure and offensive language. Summary offences are the most common types of criminal matters, and are dealt with by magistrates in the Local Court, and prosecuted by a police prosecutor.
The main benefits of a summary matter are:
- Simplified procedure,
- Faster processes, and
- Less severe punishments.
The maximum penalty for a summary offence heard in the Local Court is two years imprisonment.
Hybrid and table offences
Some offences can be tried as summary or indictable offences.
The Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (NSW) identifies a number of summary offences which can be tried on indictment. These are called “table offences”.
Some offences are not listed as table offences, but the legislation specifies that they are:
- Indictable offences which can be dealt with summarily, or
- Summary offences which can be dealt with on indictment.
Examples of this can be seen in the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW).
Table 1 offences
Table 1 offences will ordinarily be dealt with in the Local Court. In rare circumstances, they may be heard in the District Court, but this would usually only occur if a defendant is also charged with further more serious offences that must be dealt with by the District Court.
Table 2 offences
Table 2 offences will be dealt with in the Local Court unless the prosecution elects to have the matter heard in the District Court.
These offences are considered less serious than Table 1 offences, and therefore the accused cannot make this election.
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