Indictable vs Summary Offences: How Do They Differ?

Criminal Law

In the Australian legal system, indictable offences encompass serious crimes requiring formal indictment, while summary offences involve less severe infractions resolved through simplified procedures. In this article, we’ll differentiate between these two categories of offences, shedding light on the severity, legal proceedings and outcomes within the Australian legal framework. 

What Are Indictable Offences?

Indictable offences are serious criminal charges that, by their nature, are typically dealt with in a higher court. These offences are more severe and complex compared to summary offences. Indictable offences include a wide range of serious crimes, including but not limited to:

  • Large-scale fraud
  • Serious sexual offences
  • Drug trafficking and supply
  • Kidnapping and certain assaults
  • Robbery and aggravated burglary
  • Homicide (e.g. murder, manslaughter)

Indictable offences often involve more formal legal proceedings, starting with the laying of charges and the decision on whether the case should be heard in the Local Court or proceed to a higher court, such as the District Court or the Supreme Court. Some indictable offences may go through preliminary hearings in the Local Court to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to a higher court.

What Are Summary Offences?

Summary offences are less severe infractions that are typically handled through simplified legal procedures. These offences are considered minor in nature and are often heard in the Local Court rather than proceeding to higher courts. Some common examples of summary offences in NSW include:

  • Petty theft
  • Trespassing
  • Public nuisance
  • Minor assaults
  • Public intoxication
  • Offensive language
  • Minor traffic violations

It’s important to note that the classification of offences and the legal processes may vary based on the specific circumstances of each case. Legal advice from qualified criminal lawyers in Bowral is crucial for individuals facing indictable charges, as the legal system can be complex and outcomes can have significant consequences.

Key Differences Between Indictable and Summary Offences


  • Indictable Offences: Involve serious crimes, such as murder or large-scale fraud.
  • Summary Offences: Relate to less severe infractions like petty theft or public intoxication.

Legal Procedures

  • Indictable Offences: Require formal indictment and often involve grand juries.
  • Summary Offences: Handled through simplified procedures, typically overseen by magistrates.

Trial Process

  • Indictable Offences: May involve a more elaborate trial process, potentially with a judge and jury.
  • Summary Offences: Generally proceed more quickly and are often heard by a magistrate.


  • Indictable Offences: If someone is found guilty of an indictable offence that could lead to imprisonment, the court might also decide to make them pay a fine, and this fine shouldn’t be more than 1000 penalty units. The court can choose to give this fine along with other penalties or as the only punishment for the crime.
  • Summary Offences: Penalties are usually less severe, such as fines or community service.

​​Preliminary Hearings

  • Indictable Offences: Some cases may go through preliminary hearings to determine if there is sufficient evidence.
  • Summary Offences: Typically, no separate preliminary hearing is required, leading to a more straightforward legal process.

Jury Involvement

  • Indictable Offences: Often involve the option for a trial by judge and jury.
  • Summary Offences: Trials are generally heard by a magistrate, and the involvement of a jury is less common.

Record and Disclosure

  • Indictable Offences: The disclosure of evidence and record-keeping may be more extensive.
  • Summary Offences: Documentation and disclosure are typically less complex.

Appeals Process

  • Indictable Offences: The appeals process may involve a higher court.
  • Summary Offences: Appeals are generally heard within the Local Court system.

When Do You Need Criminal Lawyers in Bowral?

For indictable offences, it is almost always advisable to have a criminal lawyer. These crimes carry severe penalties, and the legal proceedings are complex. Criminal lawyers in Bowral can help build a strong defence, navigate court procedures and advocate for your rights.

While some people choose to represent themselves for minor summary offences, having a criminal lawyer can still be beneficial. They can provide legal advice, negotiate on your behalf and ensure your rights are protected. In some cases, seemingly minor charges can have more significant consequences than anticipated, and criminal lawyers in Bowral can help mitigate these.

Even for summary offences, if the case is complex or involves unique circumstances, having a criminal lawyer can be crucial. They can help you understand the charges, assess the evidence and guide you through the legal process.

If you are convicted, criminal lawyers in Bowral can assist in the appeals process or argue for a more favourable sentence.

Criminal lawyers have a deep understanding of criminal law and the legal system. They can leverage their knowledge and experience to your advantage, increasing the likelihood of a favourable outcome.

In Bowral or any other jurisdiction, consulting with a criminal lawyer as soon as possible after being charged is advisable. They can provide tailored advice based on the specific details of your case and help you navigate the legal proceedings. Keep in mind that legal processes and terminology can vary, so it’s essential to consult with a professional familiar with the local laws in Bowral or the relevant jurisdiction.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is an indictable offense example?

A: An example of an indictable offence includes serious crimes, such as murder, sexual assault, large-scale fraud and robbery. These offences are typically more severe and carry higher potential penalties.

Q: What makes an offence indictable?

A: The severity of the crime usually determines whether an offence is indictable. Indictable offences are often characterised by their seriousness and may involve complex legal proceedings. They typically warrant a trial by jury.

Q: Is a summary offence indictable?

A: No, a summary offence is not indictable. Summary offences are generally less serious crimes, such as minor theft, disorderly conduct or certain traffic offences. They are handled through a simpler legal process and do not involve a trial by jury.

Q: What makes a summary offence?

A: Summary offences are characterised by their lower severity compared to indictable offences. They are typically less complex and may involve offences like minor assaults, shoplifting or public order offences. The legal process for summary offences is generally more straightforward.

Q: What are the two types of offences in Australia?

A: In Australia, offences are broadly categorised into two types: indictable offences and summary offences. Indictable offences are more serious crimes that often involve a trial by jury, while summary offences are less serious and are dealt with through a simpler legal process.

Q: Are summary offences criminal?

A: Yes, summary offences are considered criminal offences. While they are generally less severe than indictable offences, they still carry legal consequences. Individuals charged with summary offences may face fines, community service, or other penalties, depending on the nature of the offence.

Q: Are indictable offences always tried by a jury?

A: In many jurisdictions, especially for serious indictable offences, the accused has the right to a trial by jury. However, the specifics can vary by jurisdiction. In some cases, individuals may choose to have their case heard by a judge alone, but this often depends on the nature of the charges and local legal procedures.

Trust GAR Lawyers for Your Criminal Law Needs

Dealing with the complexities of criminal law demands seasoned expertise. At GAR Lawyers, our dedicated criminal lawyers in Bowral specialise in providing comprehensive legal support. From minor infractions to serious indictable offences, we offer personalised representation, strategic defence and unwavering advocacy. Our commitment to safeguarding your rights extends from police questioning to courtroom proceedings. With a track record of successful outcomes, we prioritise your best interests, striving for favourable resolutions. 

Contact us if you need some help.

If you would like to learn more about what was discussed in this article, or if you want some legal assistance. Please feel free to call us direct on 1300 706 490 or contact us below to send a message.

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