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Level 11, 456 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne,
Victoria 3000
45 Gheringhap Street, Geelong,
Victoria 3220
62 Kepler Street, Warrnambool,
Victoria 3280
May 6, 2024

Indictable & Summary Offences in Victoria – Understanding the Difference

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In the state of Victoria, criminal offences are classified under two major categories–Indictable and Summary. Each term has vastly different implications, processes, and potential outcomes. For example, the classification determines which court, what manner, and how the offence will be tried following pre-trial procedures.
It is also important to understand that there are also sub-categories within indictable and summary related charges. As a leading criminal defence lawyer firm in Melbourne, we will provide an in-depth look into these classifications and outline the next steps to take if you have been charged.

What are the Categories of Offences in Victoria?

Criminal offences in Victoria fall within three categories:

A further category is serious indictable offences, which are indictable offences punishable on first conviction with imprisonment for life or for a term of five years or more (s 325(6) Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) (‘Crimes Act (Vic)’)).

Whether an offence is classified as indictable or summary determines in which court, in what manner, and after what pre-trial procedures, the offence will be tried.

Where an offence is described as a summary offence, or if the Act does not say what type of offence it is, then it is to be prosecuted before a Magistrates’ Court as a summary offence (s 52 Interpretation of Legislation Act 1984 (Vic)).

As noted by the Magistrates Court of Victoria, indictable offences are listed under law by the Crimes Act 1958. This act determines what is considered to be an indictable charge. We should note that charges within this category will differ significantly in their severity, as well as their potential implications.

These matters also fall under the framework of various other actionable legislations.

Indictable Offences

Indictable offences can encompass a wide range of crimes, including but not limited to armed robbery, manslaughter, sexual assault, and murder. Naturally, the consequences of being found guilty of such offences are much more severe, such as the prospect of long-term imprisonment or significant fines.

The process for indictable offences is also more complex. While summary offences are usually heard and decided upon in the Magistrates Court, indictable offences are generally heard in the County Court or the Supreme Court of Victoria. There are exceptions to this rule, however, as some indictable offences can be heard summarily in the Magistrates Court (if both the prosecution and defence agree).

While facing a charge of this nature can be highly stressful and life-altering, it’s important to remember that it is not all doom and gloom. There are several strategies that experienced criminal defence lawyers employ to fight indictable charges. These can range from disputing the facts of the case, challenging the admissibility of evidence, or arguing that the charge does not meet the necessary legal definition of the offence.
At Gallant Law, we are proud to be members of the Victoria Legal Aid Panels in Indictable Crime, Summary Crime and Youth Crime, with our Director, Lauren Cassimatis, holding an accreditation from the Law Institute of Victoria as a Criminal Law Specialist. This expertise and experience allows us to offer the best criminal lawyer services in Melbourne. Reach out to us now for a consultation.

Strictly Indictable Offences – Triable Only by a Judge and Jury (Or Judge Alone)

Due to their severity and nature, charges known as ‘strictly indictable’ will proceed to a criminal trial. This includes accused crimes that have a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, such as manslaughter, rape, murder, treason, and terrorism charges.

Here, the case may be heard with a judge and jury, or solely handled by the judge. In Victoria, the accused and their legal representative appear before the County Court or the Supreme Court. Whether or not the accused faces a trial of this nature is determined during the initial Committal Proceedings. This hearing occurs shortly after the charges are laid. At this point, the court will also set a timetable for the defence and prosecution to exchange information relevant to the case at hand.

Some crimes are automatically assigned to a jury trial. However, in cases where the accused might request a trial by judge alone, the court carefully considers the request before making a decision.

In large part, criminal matters that proceed to this point are accusations that are in breach of the Crimes Act 1958. However, Victorian and Commonwealth Acts may govern other indictable offences.There are also a wide range of indictable offences that fall under the spectrum of common law (e.g. they are not set out in a statute).
Want further information about the Victorian Court System? Please refer to our explainer article for a straightforward breakdown.

Indictable Offences Triable Summarily

Some offences that are classified as indictable can actually be heard on the grounds of a summary offence, meaning that the matter is heard at the Magistrates Court or Children’s Court. Assault or theft related charges are two more common examples where this may occur.

Why would an indictable offence be heard as a summary offence? The reasons can be multifaceted, and are often tied to the specifics of the case or the accused’s prior criminal record. For instance, a first-time offender charged with a minor theft might have their case heard summarily, given the lower severity of the offence and their clean record. Conversely, a repeat offender may face an indictable hearing for the same crime due to their history.

What are the Maximum Penalties for Indictable Cases in Victoria?

A majority of crimes listed in the Crimes Act 1958 are classified as indictable. As we will cover later, some crimes are ‘strictly indictable’, such as those that can incur a maximum lifetime imprisonment. 

In Victoria, sentencing is based on a penalty scale. Level 1 represents the highest possible sentence length, and equates to a lifetime imprisonment. Here is some information about the scale (courtesy of the Sentencing Advisory Council):

Level 1: Life imprisonment; no maximum fine. Sample offences include Murder, Trafficking in a drug of dependence (large commercial quantity).

Level 2: Maximum prison term of 25 years, and a fine up to 3,000 penalty units. Sample offences include Manslaughter, Rape, Sexual penetration of a child under 12, Armed robbery, Aggravated burglary, and Arson causing death.

Level 3: Up to 20 years imprisonment, with a maximum fine of 2,400 penalty units. Includes Intentionally causing serious injury, Culpable driving causing death.

Level 4: 15 years maximum prison term, 1,800 penalty units fine. Offences include Recklessly causing serious injury, Handling stolen goods, Trafficking in a drug of dependence (not a commercial quantity), and Arson.

Level 5: 10 years in prison, 1,200 penalty units fine. Sample offences are Threats to kill, Indecent assault, Theft, Negligently causing serious injury, Knowingly possess child pornography.

Level 6: 5-year maximum imprisonment, 600 penalty units fine. Includes Recklessly causing injury, Possession of a drug of dependence (for the purpose of trafficking).

Level 7: 2 years prison term, 240 penalty units maximum fine. Sample offence: Going equipped to steal.

Level 8: 1 year maximum imprisonment, 120 penalty units fine. Offences include Cultivation of a narcotic plant (not for the purpose of trafficking), Possession of a drug of dependence (not for the purpose of trafficking).

Level 9: 6 months in prison, 60 penalty units fine. Sample offence: Concealing the birth of a child.

Summary Offences

Generally heard at the Magistrates Court, summary offences are less severe than an indictable charge. However, this does not mean that they do not have potentially serious consequences and implications.

Common summary offences may range from disorderly behaviour to wilful property damage, as well as some driving and assault related charges. In this instance, a summary classified offence will generally proceed to a Mention Hearing, which is the first hearing for criminal matters.

If the accused pleads not guilty, the matter will move to a Contest Mention, during which the Magistrate will explore pathways to reach an amicable resolution between both parties. If a resolution cannot be reached, the matter then proceeds to a Contest Hearing. Here, both the prosecution and defence lawyers will present their case to the court.

If you are accused of a summary classified criminal offence, seeking legal counsel for guidance and representation is highly recommended. Skilled criminal lawyers can explore various strategies to reach a favourable resolution and/or contest the charges, from disputing the facts to challenging the admissibility of evidence.

Limitation Periods

This is one area where summary and indictable charges differ significantly. While many summary offences will have a set limitation period of between six to twelve months, there is no limitation period for a charge that is classified as indictable. 

If the limitation period passes, prosecution can no longer commence for a summary offence. In a corporate sense, understanding the distinction between limitation periods for summary and indictable offences is crucial. For example, a company might face summary offences related to breaches of health and safety regulations. If the limitation period passes without legal action being initiated, a sigh of relief can be breathed as the risk of prosecution has evaporated.

However, for more serious indictable offences, such as fraud, businesses must remain vigilant as there is no time limit for prosecution. This makes the need for robust legal counsel and compliance measures even more vital.
If you need the services of a corporate crime lawyer in Melbourne, contact the Gallant Law office today for a consultation.

Are Crimes Committed by a Young Person Indictable or Summary?

In most cases, the answer is a summary offence. Within the Victorian legal system, young offenders and children are also collectively referred to as ‘young people’. Cases that involve young people are handled by the Children’s Court, except certain circumstances where the accused reaches the age of 19 during the course of the trial process. 

As detailed within the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005, “If a child is charged before the Court with an indictable offence, other than murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, child homicide, homicide by firearm, an offence against section 197A of the Crimes Act 1958 (arson causing death) or an offence against section 318 of the Crimes Act 1958 (culpable driving causing death), the Court must hear and determine the charge summarily.”

However, there are two notable exceptions:

  1. The child objects before the hearing of any evidence; or
  2. The Court considers the charge to be unsuitable by reason of exceptional circumstances to be determined summarily.

The Role of a Defence Lawyer

Regardless of whether the matter reaches this point, the role that the defence lawyer plays is invaluable. Both indictable and summary charges have major consequences. Therefore, each individual case requires a measured approach that is built on a solid foundation of legal expertise and experience.

A criminal defence lawyer can provide expert advice, guidance, and representation throughout all phases of the process. Importantly, your lawyer will be able to provide clarity around the matter at hand, the steps that will follow, and the legal avenues available to you.

Legal matters can be incredibly complex, with various rules, procedures, and terminologies that are often difficult to grasp and understand. Essentially, your lawyer acts as a translator, breaking down the jargon and explaining the implications of your case in terms that you can more easily comprehend.

Getting Legal Help

If you have been charged with a criminal offence, it is natural to have uncertainty around the charge, the legal process, and the risk of conviction. The various steps, procedures, and roles of players in a criminal case are often complex and confusing at the same time.

Our criminal lawyers are highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and well-versed in the various intricacies of both summary and indictable charges.

You’re naturally anxious, and trying to make the right decisions for the best possible outcome is very important. At Gallant Law, we understand that you have a lot going on beyond your legal case. We pride ourselves on offering a full service that supports you, both in and out of the courtroom.Gallant Law has offices in multiple locations across Victoria. Whether you need a reliable law firm in Geelong, Warrnambool or Melbourne, we are ready to hear your case and fight for your best interests.

Disclaimer: Legal Information and Advice

The information provided on this blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The content is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, a solicitor-client relationship. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional legal counsel.

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