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Indictable Offences in the ACT

Indictable offences are serious criminal offences that can be finalised in the higher courts. A person charged with an indictable offence has the right to trial by a jury; however, a lot of indictable offences can also be dealt with in the lower courts (Magistrates Court and Children’s Court) with the accused person’s consent. This page looks at indictable offences in the ACT.

What is an indictable offence?

Under section 190 of the Legislation Act 2001, a criminal offence is an indictable offence if it is punishable by a maximum penalty of imprisonment for two years or more, or if it is declared to be an indictable offence under ACT law.

Indictable offences include stealing and assault as well as more serious offences such as murder, manslaughter and sexual intercourse without consent, which are strictly indictable offences. These matters can only be finalised in the Supreme Court of the ACT.

Limitation period

A limitation period is how long the police have to lay a charge after the date that an offence is alleged to have been committed. Minor offences have a short period such as six or 12 months.

There is no limitation period for indictable offences. A charge for murder or assault can be laid years or even decades after the alleged offence. This may occur because of a delay in reporting the offence or because new evidence has come to light.

Historical offences can be more difficult to prove as witnesses’ memories may have deteriorated, and other types of evidence may have become unavailable.

Indictable offences dealt with summarily

When a person is charged with an indictable offence that is not a strictly indictable offence, the matter can be finalised by a magistrate if both parties agree. When this happens in the ACT, the maximum penalty that a magistrate can impose for a single offence is imprisonment for three years.

Matters that are finalised summarily tend to be finalised much quicker than those that are committed to a higher court.

Indictable offences that are often dealt with summarily include stealing and assault.

Offences dealt with on indictment

When a person is charged with an indictable offence and it is not heard summarily, the matter must go through a committal proceeding in the Magistrates Court (or Children’s Court if the accused is a child). During a committal proceeding, a magistrate will review the prosecution evidence and assess whether there is a strong enough case to support a finding of guilt in the Supreme Court.

If the court decides that the evidence could support a finding of guilt, the matter will be committed to the Supreme Court. If the magistrate considers the case could not support a conviction, it will be dismissed.

After a matter has been committed to the Supreme Court, it will be listed for a jury trial or a plea hearing.

Criminal matters that go to trial in the ACT are generally decided by a jury of twelve people, selected randomly from the electoral roll. The jury decides whether the accused has been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt after hearing evidence and submissions from both sides. If the accused is found guilty, the judge then imposes a sentence.


In the Supreme Court, lengthy sentences of imprisonment can be imposed. Treason, murder and terrorism offences have a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Fernanda Dahlstrom

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

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