In England and Wales, the criminal law distinguishes between three main categories of offences: summary offences, either way offences, and indictable offences.
- Summary offences are considered less serious criminal offences.
- They are tried in the Magistrates' Court, which is a lower court in the criminal justice system.
- Examples of summary offences include minor theft, common assault, certain traffic offences, and minor criminal damage.
- The trial for summary offences is typically less formal and involves a magistrate or a panel of magistrates, without a jury.
- The maximum penalties for summary offences are generally limited to fines and/or up to six months' imprisonment.
- Either way offences are intermediate offences that can be tried in either the Magistrates' Court or the Crown Court.
- These offences are considered more serious than summary offences but less serious than indictable offences.
- Factors that determine whether the case is heard in the Magistrates' Court or the Crown Court include the nature and seriousness of the offence, the potential sentence, and the defendant's preference (where applicable).
- If the case is tried in the Magistrates' Court, it is treated as a summary offence, and if tried in the Crown Court, it is treated as an indictable offence.
- The penalties for either way offences can range from fines and imprisonment (in the Magistrates' Court) to more severe penalties, including longer terms of imprisonment (in the Crown Court).
- Indictable offences are the most serious criminal offences.
- They are tried in the Crown Court, which is a higher court in the criminal justice system.
- Examples of indictable offences include murder, rape, robbery, serious fraud, drug trafficking, and other significant offences.
- Indictable offences often involve complex legal and factual issues, and they require a more formal and lengthy legal process, including trial by jury.
- The penalties for indictable offences are typically more severe and can include substantial fines, long-term imprisonment, life imprisonment, or other custodial sentences.
The classification of offences also depends on factors such as the circumstances of the offence, the defendant's criminal history, the decision of the prosecution, and the specific legislation and sentencing guidelines.
You can learn more about this topic with our Criminal Practice notes.