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Summary Offences in South Australia (SA)

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Australian National Character Check (ANCC) makes every effort to provide updated and accurate information to its customers. However due to the continuously changing nature of legislations for the Commonwealth and various States and Territories, it is inevitable that some information may not be up to date. The information on the website is general information only. The contents on the website do not constitute legal or professional advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal or professional advice. While we endeavour to keep the information up to date and correct, we make no representations or warranties of any kind, express or implied, about the completeness, suitability, accuracy or availability with respect to the information.

Summary offences are less serious crimes. They are minor as compared to indictable offences. Summary offences cover a wide range of crimes. Some of these offences are covered by paying the imposed fine or attending court if the court summons you.

Summary offences in South Australia are disclosed on a Nationally Coordinated Criminal History Check.

Common Summary offences in South Australia

The following are the common summary offences in South Australia defined under section 5 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1921 (SA);

How to know if an offence is a summary offence?

A few things give us an idea about which actions come under the category of a summary offence. The basic idea about summary offences is outlined in Section 5 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1921 (SA). A crime may be classified as a summary offence if any of the following apply;

  • The offence is not punishable by imprisonment,
  • The maximum fine for the offence is less than $120,000,
  • The maximum imprisonment is two years,
  • It is a dishonest offence that involves $2,500 or less.

Who Handles Summary Offences in South Australia?

In the first instance, the Police department generally handles summary offences. Summary offences in South Australia are dealt with in local courts such as the Magistrates court.

Unlike indictable offences, a Magistrate hears summary offences and gives the decision in local courts.

Limitation period in summary offences

Summary offences complaints have a time limit. The time limit is two years to lay complaints.

Court Attendance Notification

When someone gets charged for a summary offence, a Magistrates Court summons them. In South Australia, the Accused will generally receive a phone call along with a summoning letter which will advise them to summon before a Magistrate and provide the date and time. This system is known as a court attendance notification.

Types of penalties imposed on Summary Offences

The penalties imposed on summary offences in South Australia include good behaviour bonds, fines, community service orders, and/or imprisonment. Guidelines state that imprisonments are considered a last resort after evaluating all the possible options.

Basis of the Penalties in South Australia

South Australian courts base their judgments and define the suitable penalty by considering past similar cases and the parliament's laws, victim impact statements and pre-sentence reports.

Before giving a penalty, they consider past criminal history, relevant circumstances of the offence, personal circumstances of the offender and the victim, loss, damage and injury, the need to protect the community and possible rehabilitation. A court considers these things before announcing the penalty for the case.

Ex-Parte Convictions

In South Australia, sometimes a Magistrate can convict someone in their absence if they fail to turn up to the hearing; this action is an ex-parte conviction. The Magistrate may sentence you on behalf of the request presented by the prosecutor given that there is adequate evidence to do so.

Defences available for Summary Offences

Defences in summary offences depend on the availability of witnesses and evidence, proving the claim to be false.

The creation of reasonable doubt can also save a victim from penalty. Moreover, the most common defence is presenting evidence and witnesses proving that the accused is not guilty. Sometimes sound legal advice may also keep you from getting a penalty. In addition, if the defendant cannot hire a lawyer, the state is obligated to give them a legal practitioner for their defence.

Appeals in the case of a Summary Offence

You can make appeals against the decision of the court in several matters.

After ex-parte convictions

After ex-parte convictions, you can encounter it by filling an application to set the trust aside. The time limit is 14 days. The Magistrate will consider your reason for not attending the court and announce a re-hearing if the prosecutor agrees.

Severe Punishments

If the convict believes that the sentences granted by the court in case of summary offence are too severe, the victim can appeal to the Supreme Court. The appeal doesn't mean that you are requesting a re-hearing, but rather it is based on a question of law.

Legislation within South Australia (SA)

In South Australia, summary offences are governed by the Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA). This act outlines the charges for certain crimes. It also provides the maximum and minimum penalties.

How are Summary offences handled?

According to the Court attendance notification, if the prosecutor's department decides to lay a complaint about a summary offence, the victim will receive a summons from a court. In case if police witness the crime, the victim can be arrested on the spot. The police will set bail, and if refused, the victim has the right to approach the Magistrate for bail.

Right to a Fair Trial

The right to a fair trial is a fundamental right of every human being and an essential discussion in the human rights activists circle. In the same way, citizens in South Australia have the right to a fair trial before being convicted of a summary offence. An attempt will also occur after the court's first appearance if someone pleads not-guilty and if someone persists in the plea. If you have a strong defence, your lawyer may advise you to choose a trial.

Pleading Guilty

When a defendant is pleaded guilty, police outline the facts of the case to the Magistrate upon the Magistrate's request. The defence lawyer checks the facts and evidence for accuracy. The Magistrate then imposes an appropriate penalty according to the Sentencing Act 2017 (SA).

Disputed fact hearing

Suppose the defendant admits to being guilty but disputes some of the prosecution's allegations. In such cases, a disputed fact hearing takes place on another day, which will decide the fact and accuracy of those denied allegations.

Pleading Not-Guilty

If a defendant pleads not guilty, then the case will come before the court. The court will decide the claim based on the evidence and witnesses that the defendant and prosecution will present.

Evidence Presented

The decision of the court about the defendant whether they are guilty or not guilty comes after the court takes into account the evidence and witnesses presented to the court. The evidence includes all the information which a witness under oath provides. The data needs to comply with the rules of evidence, much of which is outlined in the Evidence Act 1929 (SA). The Magistrate decides the validity of objection to information by either party, keeping in view the rules of evidence outlined in the legislation.

Verdict of the court in Summary offences

In South Australia, after hearing the case and the presented evidence, the court then announces verdicts of summary offences.

If there's reasonable doubt about the defendant being guilty, then the court will give the benefit of the doubt to the defendant, and they will be found not guilty. In this case, charges tend to drop.

If the court is satisfied that the defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt, the Magistrate will be confident about imposing charges. An appropriate penalty is set on the defendant keeping the view of the law and the circumstances of the case. The penalty is imposed based on Sentencing Act 2017 (SA).


Summary Offences Act 1953 (SA) -

Criminal Procedure Act 1921 (SA) -

Sentencing Act 2017 (SA) -

Evidence Act 1929 (SA) -

Legal Services Commission of South Australia (Summary Offences) -

Legal Services Commission of South Australia (Types of Crimes and Courts) -

Legal Services Commission of South Australia (Penalty Summaries) -

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