Seriousness of an Offence: Summary vs. Indictable

LegalIn Hong Kong criminal law, the court may consider an offence summary or indictable. The common distinction between the two lies in the seriousness or weight of the crime. The main difference, however, is the mode of trial between the two offences.

Summary offences are less serious crimes, while indictable offences are serious crimes. Hong Kong criminal lawyers share more about these two types of offences.

Summary Offences

These offences are tried in the Magistrates’ Courts, but may also be applicable in the District Court along with indictable offences. This can happen if the court also charged the accused person with an indictable offence. Common examples of summary offences include careless driving, littering and pretending to be a police officer.

The prosecution limit for a summary offence is within six months of the commission to the offence. For it to be considered summary offence, the legislation creating the offence must indicate that it can be dealt with summarily. If it does not, it is considered an indictable defence.

Indictable Offences

If the offence is upon indictment or on indictment, it is indictable. Most offences like these can be tried in the Magistrates’ Court, the District Court or in the Court of First Instance of the High Court. The location or venue of the trial relies on the prosecution. They will normally consider and evaluate the complexity of the case and likely imposed sentence on the offender upon conviction.

If the likely sentence is two years imprisonment, the Magistrates’ Court can handle it. If it is four years, however, the prosecution will choose the District Courts, as it can impose a maximum imprisonment of seven years. The choice will always depend on the sentencing power of the court.

Serious offences like drug trafficking or shooting another person, however, cannot be tried in the Magistrates’ Court. More serious offences like murder or manslaughter are set out in Magistrates Ordinance Schedule 2, with the Court of First Instance of Power (with jury) handling the trial.

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