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  • Summary (Simple) Offences in Western Australia (WA)

    How an offence is described in WA’s Criminal Code Act determines the Court that will handle it. The Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 in WA specifies acts and violations for the main categories of offences;

    • Summary (Simple) Offences, or
    • Indictable offences (Crimes),
    • Either way, offences; which can be dealt with as simple offences or crimes.

    Summary or “Simple Offences” that are committed in the state of Western Australia (WA) will show up as a disclosable court outcome (DCO) on an individual’s national criminal record check in WA.

    Summary offences are disclosed in accordance with WA’s spent convictions scheme.

    What is a Simple Offence?

    All violations under the WA legislation that is not considered a crime are treated as a “simple offence". The significant difference between both offences is that the simple offence incurs lesser penalties than the crimes (indictable offences).

    The Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (WA) also lists many offences that cannot be considered a crime and must be dealt with as an “offence”.

    Simple offences in WA don't usually include violations with a maximum penalty higher than three years imprisonment.

    Some examples of a simple offences are;

    What is a Crime in WA?

    The meaning of Crimes can mean slightly different things in Western Australia. All serious offences that exceed the jurisdiction of a Magistrate Court are transferred to the District or Supreme Court in WA.

    An offence that proceeds to the Supreme Court will be handled by a Judge or Jury depending on;

    • How complex the case is, or
    • Where the accused elects to hear the case.

    When a Judge/Jury hears a matter as a crime, severe punishments are attached if the accused is found guilty. Issues handled by a Supreme or District Court have penalties reaching up to life imprisonment terms. Some of them include;

    • ✔ Sexual offences under section 325 (1) of WA’s Criminal Code;
    • ✔ Tampering with Wills or Testament under section 380 of the Criminal Code;
    • ✔ Murder, Treason and Manslaughter offences;
    • ✔ Assaulting an aircraft crew under section 318A of the Criminal Code.

    What are either way offences?

    Either way, offences cover all offences where the legislation sets out two different maximum penalties from the name. It includes penalties for where the matter is;

    • Dealt with summarily and,
    • Others where the matter is dealt with on indictment.

    An example of such an offence can be that of assault causing bodily harm in WA. An accused person found guilty of such crime may receive;

    • Five years maximum imprisonment term – if the matter is dealt with on indictment.
    • Seven years maximum term – if there is a circumstance of aggravation to the matter.

    However, if the matter is dealt with summarily before a Magistrate Court, the defendant is liable to;

    • A two years maximum imprisonment term, and,
    • $24,000.

    Or in aggravated circumstances

    • Three years maximum imprisonment term, and,
    • $36,000.

    Which Court handles a simple offence in WA?

    Only the Court of Summary Jurisdiction, which is any of;

    • ✔ Magistrate Court,
    • ✔ The Children’s Youth Court or,
    • ✔ Similar Courts,

    Has exclusive authority to handle a simple offence in WA. It is against legal procedures to hear a simple offence before a Judge or Jury of a District or Supreme Court.

    All matters outside the Court of Summary Jurisdiction jurisdiction must proceed to the Supreme or District Court.

    What is the Limitation period for a summary (Simple) offence?

    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 Western Australia is within 12 months from the offence date.

    However, for a summary offence that involves common assault, it can be prosecuted at any time.

    There is no time limitation for indictable offences regardless of how much time elapses since the event happened.

    Which Court handles an "Either way" offence?

    Having a specific court or knowing which deals with an “either way” offence can be a little confusing. By default, “Either way” offences are dealt with summarily in a Magistrate Court (Summary Jurisdiction).

    However, it will be treated as an indictable offence if the prosecution engages in section 5(2) of the Criminal Code. The legislation allows a trial to apply under this section of the law regarding "either way" offences if;

    The offence is too severe and is improper for a Magistrate Court (Summary Jurisdiction) to handle if:

    • The Division 2A of the Sentencing Act 1995 (WA) is in force,
    • There is more than one person accused of "joint defendants",
    • There are lots of sequences of offences, and other parts are dealt with on indictments,
    • It is more beneficial for the justice system that the matter is dealt with on indictment.

    Procedures for prosecuting a Simple offence in WA

    The process for a simple offence in the WA is faster and less complex than when dealing with indictable offences in WA (Crimes).

    1. Filing of the Charges

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

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

    1. 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. At the first mention, charges are read 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 finalised 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.

    1. 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 agree and resolve some details of the case outside the Court.

    1. 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.

    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.

    Proceedings for a Simple offence in Court

    The Criminal Procedure (Summary) Act 1902 (WA) prescribes the following proceedings where the Magistrate treats a simple offence;

    • The absence of the prosecutor in Court

    The Magistrate may dismiss a case or complaint on the first mention date if;

    • The defendant acts obediently upon a summons, or
    • Attends the Court under the warrant,


    • The prosecutor refuses to show up in Court.

    However, the Court may not dismiss the case if it concludes that the prosecutor had valid reasons to miss the date set by the Court. In such a case, the Court will adjourn the case and commit the defendant for the period.

    • The defendant is absent or without a plea of guilt

    If on the place and time issued for the hearing, the defendant does not show up or provide a written plea, the Magistrate may;

    • Proceed to hear and sentence the matter as if the defendant were present, or,
    • Adjourn the hearing of the summons to which it relates, and: Issue a summons, and a warrant was necessary

    However, if the defendant through any legal means notifies the Court of that;

    • They choose to enter a guilty plea, then,
    • Later attempts a change in their mind;

    The Court will proceed to hear and judge the case in the absence of the defendant, or,

    • Adjourn the hearing and apprehend the defendant to answer the hearing if they consider it necessary

    • Proceedings on defendant confessions

    While all parties are present at a hearing, the prosecutor will lay all complaints and charges on them. At the end of it, the Court will inquire if they have any reasons why they;

    • Should not be convicted, or
    • An order should not be laid on them.

    However, if the defendant has no cause, the Court will convict them and order against them as per WA’s Sentencing Act.

    Defendants who will not plead

    If a defendant who is required to plead to a complaint does not;

    • ✔ Plead in a legally accepted manner (section 138), or
    • ✔ Answer correctly to the charges,

    The Court will enter a not guilty plea on their behalf unless the defendant is not mentally fit to stand trial.

    • Not guilty due to mental instability of mind

    If the defendant is found not guilty of an offence due to mental instability, the defendant will be dealt with under the Criminal Law (Mentally Impaired Accused) Act 1996 (WA).

    • Sentencing a Defendant

    If the Court of summary jurisdiction convicts a person either after;

    It finds them guilty, or

    They enter a guilty plea,

    The Court will issue sentencing and make other orders following the;

    Can the Magistrate Dismiss a Complaint?

    The Magistrate will dismiss a complaint before or during a proceeding if;

    • It thinks it fit to make the dismissal order,
    • Either or any of the parties (mainly the prosecutor) repeatedly refuses to show for their trial.

    If the Magistrate dismisses a complaint by requirement, the Court will issue a certificate to the defendant. And by this certificate, they cannot be convicted of the same offence in future.

    Do summary offences show up on a national criminal record check in WA?

    Summary offences are disclosed on a national criminal record check in accordance with the spent convictions scheme in WA.

    It is important to note that applicants must apply to have their convictions spent in WA.

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

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