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  • Summary Offences in Victoria (VIC)

    The Summary Offence Act 1966 (Vic) governs how the Court handles summary offences in Victoria. It includes all the court proceedings, hearings and possible penalties the Magistrate can impose on a person found guilty of a Summary offence.

    While Summary offences under the Summary Offence Act 1966 do not usually attract severe penalties, the penalties can be more severe if the Magistrate concludes they were other circumstances of aggravation.

    Summary Offences that are committed in the state of Victoria (VIC) will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on an individual’s national police check in Victoria.

    Summary offences are disclosed on national police checks in accordance with the Spent Convictions Scheme of Australia.

    What is a Summary offence in Victoria?

    Summary offences are one of the two main types of criminal offence in Australia and Victoria. Generally, the Magistrate handles all Summary offences and pronounces sentencing per the stipulations of the law.

    The maximum penalty the Magistrate can impose for a summary offence is a two years imprisonment term. In other cases, the Magistrate may also charge a fine that they consider equivalent to the imprisonment term.

    Some types of Summary offences in Victoria

    The Summary Offences Act (Vic) describes the offences that should be treated summarily to include;

    Various Other Types of Summary Offences in Victoria (VIC)

    • ✔ Food or Drink Spiking under the Division 4B and section 41H of the Act;
    • ✔ Illegal taking or using of vehicles (section 38 of the Act)
    • ✔ Advertising of live sexually related content (section 39 of the Act)
    • ✔ Improper, obscene, Abusive words or behaviour (section 17 to 19 of the Act)
    • ✔ Offences relating to Drunkenness (section 13 to 16 of the Act)
    • ✔ Destroying, Damaging Property or crimes of trespass (section 9)

    All other crimes as stipulated in the Summary offences Act 1966 (Vic).

    Assault cases

    Under section 23 and 24 of the Summary offences Act 1966;

    All crimes against a person that qualifies as assault except where there is grievous/permanent bodily damage. Cases of unlawful (minor) assault attract penalties up to 15 penalty units.

    • ✔ Aggravated assaults attract fines up to 25 penalty units or a six-month imprisonment term (without aggravation).

    Summary or Indictable Offences?

    Summary and Indictable offences are the two main divisions of criminal offences in Victoria.

    Offences that are considered severe or complex for a Magistrate Court are considered “indictable offences” and are generally heard at a County or Supreme Court.

    The Summary Offences Act in Victoria covers most minor violations in Victoria that fall within the Act. However, certain indictable matters can also be heard before a Magistrate.

    Indictable offences are more serious offences, which carry severer imprisonment terms. If a judge finds you guilty of an indictable offence;

    • Depending on the nature of the offence,

    And

    • The circumstances around the crime,

    They can impose penalties as severe as a life imprisonment term.

    What Court hears a Summary Offence in Victoria?

    The Magistrate Courts (or similar) in Victoria handle all Summary and Minor offences in Victoria. Section 25(1) of the Magistrate Courts Act 1989 (Vic) explains and stipulates the authority of the Magistrate Court when dealing with summary offences in Victoria.

    The maximum penalty a Magistrate Court can impose in Victoria is a 2-years imprisonment term or its equivalent.

    However, this can also be a limited description of offences that a Magistrate handles. Certain indictable offences may also be heard by a Magistrate Court if;

    • The Magistrate recommends it after a committal hearing,
    • A Judge transfers such part of the Case to the Magistrate,
    • The Prosecution and Defendant agree to attend a Magistrate Court.

    Penalties the Magistrate imposes for a Summary Offence

    If the Magistrate finds you guilty of a summary offence, the maximum penalty for a single charge is;

    • 2-years imprisonment, or
    • Fines not more than 240 penalty units.

    However, there are alternative sentences the Magistrate may impose on those guilty of a summary offence. Instead of an imprisonment term, the Magistrate can exercise their discretion not to record a conviction.

    Other punishments a Magistrate may impose can be;


    • Fines

    The Court can order the offender to pay certain sums to the State or Court office as an alternative to an imprisonment term. Usually, the Court communicates the fines in terms of penalty units, of which their value can change.

    The fines the Court orders depends on the degree of the offence or sentencing.


    • Community Orders

    If the Court considers an imprisonment sentencing a harsh punishment for the offence, they can impose a community order. The Court may either;

    • Hand the offender over to the Community Corrections person, or,
    • Order them under a parole officer.

    • Sentence Dismissal

    The Magistrate may postpone an imprisonment sentencing for a Good Behaviour Period in Victoria. However, the Court must consider other factors and the State legislation on sentencing. Some factors that may influence this decision include;

    When issuing a sentence dismissal, the Court will include other conditions the offender must abide by throughout the period.


    • Court Warnings

    The Court can issue a "Court Warning" if they feel imposing a fine will be too harsh. It includes summary offences of little detriment to the victim or the State and where the person is a young or first offender. However, there is a limit to the number of Court Warnings an offender can receive.

    Can the County or Supreme Court hear a Summary Offence?

    While Summary offences can be easily determined and concluded in a Magistrate court, a County or Supreme Court will hear an offence summarily if;

    • The Summary offence was related to an indictable crime in Victoria ongoing at the higher courts. However, it will go to the Magistrate Court if the Prosecutor and defendant agree otherwise.
    • The defendant is already before the Court for an indictable offence. Even if it is not related to the summary offence, they intend to plead guilty.

    This legal procedure is backed under sections 242 and 243 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (VIC).

    If a County or Supreme Court hears an offence summarily, they can only impose punishments (maximum) that a Magistrate would impose. The fact that a superior court handles the matter does not translate that the penalties will be greater.

    Also, the County court will employ the summary procedures in dealing with a Summary offence (not the usual methods for indictable crimes).

    Offences that cannot be heard Summarily

    There are offences called Indictable offences and they include some of the most severe and grievous violations in Victoria. And that is why only the Supreme or County Court in Victoria may attend to indictable crimes in Victoria. Some examples of indictable crimes are;

    And other offences treated as indictable offences under the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic).

    Indictable offences that can be heard Summarily

    Section 28 of the Criminal Procedure Act allows certain indictable offences to proceed before a Magistrate Court. However, the Magistrate may only hear such matters if the accused consents to it.

    Also, the indictable matter that a Magistrate Court intends to hear must not be;

    • A matter where the maximum punishment exceeds ten years imprisonment (level 5 imprisonment),
    • Where the fines that can be imposed exceeds $120,000 (level 5 fines),
    • It excludes those listed in Schedule 2 of the Criminal Procedure Act.

    Why are certain indictable offences dealt with summarily?

    If the defendant and prosecution agree to hear their Case summarily before a Magistrate, it will be treated as a summary offence. And there are lots of benefits to hearing a crime before a Magistrate Court.


    • The matter is generally resolved faster

    From the name summary, many would guess that hearing an offence before a Magistrate is usually quicker. Since the matter and procedures required are less complex and demanding than in a County or Supreme Court, the process is faster.


    • Lower legal costs for all parties

    Of course, hearing a matter before a Supreme/County Court costs more in legal fees. Multiply that by the number of case adjournments and court requirements, and you may be facing a mountain in legal costs.


    • Lower maximum penalties

    Even when you feel guilty of an offence, it is still best to target the lowest possible penalties. With a Magistrate Court, you cannot get more than a 2-years imprisonment sentence. An example is minor theft-related offences in Victoria.

    If the County or Supreme Court hears a case of theft, the maximum penalty is ten years imprisonment. However, the Magistrate can only impose up to a two years penalty for such offences.

    Minor Offences not dealt with in a Magistrate Court

    Not all minor offences are handled in a Magistrate Court. Some crimes are settled without going to court, even if they fall within the jurisdiction of the Magistrate. These matters are resolved through the Infringement Notice system.

    Infringement Notice

    The infringement notice is also called the quasi-criminal system. Offences that qualify for the infringement system don't need to be brought to Court. The payments of infringements or fines can settle them.

    Such penalties are usually common in Driving Offences in Victoria in the Road Safety Act 1986 (Vic). For example, if a traffic or Police officer pulls you for a driving offence, it can quickly be settled by paying your tickets or abiding by the infringement notice.

    The Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 (Vic) also governs the summary offences of possessing small quantities of drugs of dependence.

    What is the Limitation period of prosecuting a Summary offence in Victoria?

    Limitation periods are the time frame from when an offence happens to when the Prosecutor can charge it before a court. Summary offences across Australia have various limitation periods depending on how long their laws think an offence will still be “relevant”.

    The Limitation period for a summary offence in Victoria is within 12 months from the date of violation.

    The legislation believes it will be difficult to prosecute an offence that occurred over 12 months ago.

    What are the procedures for treating a Summary offence in Victoria?

    Because a matter is treated summarily does not mean it cannot get complex. Sometimes a summary matter can include some of the procedures found in an indictable proceeding depending on how the defendant pleads.

    These are the possible procedures for hearing a summary offence include;


    • Filing of the Charges

    The Prosecutor must submit a copy of the charge to the Magistrate through the Registrar or the Court Clerk. The charge filing will inform the Court of all cases and evidence that are relevant to the summary offence.

    After filing the charge, the Court may issue a warrant to arrest the accused (if they are not already in custody). However, for a summary offence, and when the matter does not cause a potential detriment, the Magistrate will issue a summons or court attendance notice.


    • First Mention Hearing

    This is the first time the Court Clerk or other official reads the charges to the hearing of all parties in the Court. The official will read the charges in the presence of the accused or their legal representatives.

    If the accused pleads guilty to the charges read, the Magistrate can issue immediate sentencing, and the matter finalized the same day. However, if the accused contests all or part of the charges, the Magistrate will adjourn the matter for a Contest hearing or a Summary Case conference.


    • The Summary Case conference

    The case conference is an arrangement or meeting that allows both parties to agree on parts of the charges. At a Case conference, both parties may decide to settle and resolve some Case details outside the Court.


    • Contested hearing

    A Contested hearing is held if the defendant chooses to plead not guilty of the charges. The Court sets another date for contested mention and lists all the adjusted charges from both parties. At the contested hearing, the Magistrate will allow the prosecution to prove the offence through all forms. The defendant also gets the right to prove their innocence of the matter.

    Both parties may call in witnesses to confirm their arguments. However, the Court must be pre-informed of these witnesses and how long each hearing will take.

    If the Prosecutor cannot prove guilt

    At the end of a Summary offence trial, the Magistrate Court may either;

    • Impose sentencing,
    • Dismiss the Case,
    • Acquit the defendant.

    When the Court imposes a sentence, they will also include other conditions or punishments that will help rehabilitate the offender.

    If the Court dismisses a case, it is usually because;

    • The Prosecutor cannot prove the offence, or,
    • The Prosecutor fails to appear in Court, or
    • Attempts any form of time-wasting.

    However, if the defendant is acquitted, they cannot be tried for the same Case under that Court.

    Do summary offences show up on a national criminal history check in Victoria (VIC)?

    Summary offences are disclosed on national criminal history checks in accordance with the spent convictions scheme legislation for Victoria.

    Individuals can obtain their national police checks online via the Australian National Character Check - ANCC® website.

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