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Summary Offence in England and Wales

In England and Wales, a summary offence, also known as a summary-only offence, a summary conviction offence or petty offence, refers to a type of criminal offence that is considered less serious and is typically dealt with in the Magistrates' Court. Summary offences are governed by the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980.

Summary offences cover a wide range of relatively minor criminal offences, such as minor assaults, petty theft, certain traffic offences, public order offences, and certain types of criminal damage. These offences are generally less serious in nature and carry lower maximum penalties compared to indictable offences.

When a person is charged with a summary offence, his case is typically heard by a magistrate or a panel of magistrates in the Magistrates' Court. Summary offences do not involve a trial by jury, and the magistrates make decisions on matters of law and fact, determine guilt or innocence, and impose penalties if necessary.

The penalties for summary offences are generally limited to fines and/or up to six months' imprisonment. However, certain offences may have specific maximum penalties set out by legislation. In some cases, if the defendant elects for trial in the Crown Court or if the case involves a more serious variant of a summary offence, the case may be transferred to the Crown Court, which has wider sentencing powers.

While summary offences are generally heard in the Magistrates' Court, some offences may have a hybrid or either-way nature. This means that they can be tried either summarily in the Magistrates' Court or on indictment in the Crown Court, depending on factors such as the seriousness of the offence or the decision of the prosecution.

You can learn more about this topic with our Criminal Practice notes.

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