Summary offense

Summary offense
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A summary offence, in simple words means an offence, which can be examined by a magistrate alone, rather than jury or a judge. It may be also heard without the presence of the accused person at court. A summary offence usually means a less serious offence. There are quite a few summary offences, to name a few, we can list for example, road traffic offences such as:

  • careless driving,
  • drinking and driving
  • unlicensed driving.

Minor assaults, property damage and offensive behaviour also fall into that category.

Meaning summary offence in England and Wales[edit]

The term, judging by the examples, seems to be very simple, however its meaning is different from country to county. And thus, in England and Wales, the term summary offence is referred to an offence which, if perpetrated by an adult person, is tried by way of a summary procedure. In such kind of proceedings no jury is present and the appointed judge makes a decision on the guilt or innocence of the accused person. Every summary offence must be specified by a statute that specifies the offence and the hearing judge. A summary procedure may produce a summary conviction [1].

Meaning summary offence in the United States[edit]

On the other hand, in the United States, some minor or petty offenses can be proceeded against summarily, or even without a jury. For instance, criminal citations. Any crime subject to more than six months of confinement must undergo a jury trial. In some states, among others in California, all crimes related to common law as well as misdemeanours must be performed by a jury trial. In other states the defendant may demand a jury trial in case of all offenses. Interestingly enough, the entitlement to trial by jury constitutes an exclusive defendant’s right. When the defendant decides to choose a bench trial, referred to as a trial by judge, the prosecution cannot object to it [2].

Meaning summary offence in South Australia[edit]

In South Australia, on the other hand, crimes that may only be heard by a magistrate in the magistrates court are referred to as summary offences. In South Australia such offences are also much less serious than indictable offences and the penalties are also not so severe. Summary offences constitute a larger part of common offences. Criminal Procedure Act 1921 defines the summary offence as: an offence, which is not punishable by confinement and the maximum fine is less than AUD120 000, two years is the maximum of confinement; Summary offence defined by the Australian law constitute among others:

  • disorderly behaviour,
  • drinking and driving,
  • taking drugs and driving,
  • petty criminal damage to property.

Interestingly enough, persons who are charged with a summary offence cannot be tried by a jury.

Summary offences in Canada[edit]

Last, but not least, in Canada, in turn, summary offences can be defined as summary conviction offences. Similarly to other jurisdictions, summary offences in Canada are less serious than indictable offencesdue to the fact that they are punishable by smaller fines and shorter prison sentences. Such kind of offences can be encountered both in legislation of Canada's provinces and territories as well as Canada’s federal laws. In case of summary offences under federal government’s jurisdiction, the Criminal Code defines:

  • the maximum penalty for a summary offence, which is a sentence of 6 months’ confinement,
  • a fine equal to $5,000
  • or both.

What is characteristic of summary offences in Canada is the fact that the accused person has to be charged with a summary conviction within the period of 6 months after the occurrence of the event. Limitation periods are described in detail by the Criminal Code. What is more, the police is empowered to carry out an arrest under summary conviction without being issued the arrest warrant. However, if the police does not prove that the summary offence was committed, then an arrest warrant is mandatory. Luckily for the accused person, he or she does not have to submit fingerprints in case of being charged under Summary Conviction. Moreover, the accused persons convicted under a summary conviction are entitled to a pardon after 5 years, on the condition that they are not convicted of any other offences during the period mentioned above [3] .


  1. Mcsherry, B., (2005), Terrorism offences in the criminal code: broadening the boundaries of australian criminal laws
  2. Elvi, J. (2008) The Concept of Consent under the Sexual Offences Act 2003
  3. Moyer S. (2005), A comparison of case processing under the young offenders act and the first six months of the youth criminal justice act


Author: Pola Ligaj