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This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom - Content Editor - Brisbane

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.

Summary Offences (NSW)


Summary offences are minor criminal offences that are heard in the Local Court in New South Wales. The maximum penalty a magistrate can impose for a single summary offence is two years imprisonment, though many summary offences carry a maximum penalty of a fine only. Many summary offences are governed by the Summary Offences Act, such as offensive conduct and indecent exposure. They also include traffic offences, drink driving and minor drug offences.

Some indictable offences can be heard summarily (as a summary offence in the Local Court) if both defence and prosecution agree to this. Summary offences are dealt with much quicker and less formally than indictable offences, which must be dealt with in the District Court or the Supreme Court in NSW.

Summons or arrest for summary offences?

When a person in NSW is charged with a summary offence, they are generally summonsed to appear before the Local Court (or the Children’s Court if they are under 18). If a person does not attend court in response to a summons, a warrant for their arrest will generally issue.

In some circumstances, an accused may be arrested. However, this usually only happens where the person is also charged with more serious offences as well.

Entering a plea to summary offences

When an accused attends court for a summary offence, they can choose to finalise the matter by pleading guilty and being sentenced on the same day or to adjourn the matter to obtain legal advice and prepare their case.

If the accused pleads guilty, a magistrate will sentence them. The sentence may be a good behaviour bond, a fine, a community-based order, a term of imprisonment (or detention if they are under 18) or a combination of two or more of these orders.

If the accused wants to contest the charges, they will have to attend court on at least two more occasions, to attend a contest mention and then a contested hearing. The brief of evidence will be served by the prosecution and reviewed by the defence.

If the matter is proceeding to a contested hearing, the court will be informed of what issues are in dispute, how many witnesses will be giving evidence and how long the hearing is likely to take. It should also be alerted to any practical issues, such as whether parties or witnesses require interpreters or whether any witness needs to give evidence by video-link.

Summary Offences Act

Offences under the Summary Offences Act can only be dealt with in the Local Court (for adults) or in the Children’s Court (for juveniles). Although they are less serious than indictable offences, they can still result in imprisonment and the recording of a conviction, which generally stays on the offender’s criminal record for life. In some circumstances, a person may be able to obtain a Section 10 dismissal or conditional release order after a person has been found guilty, meaning no criminal conviction is recorded against them.

Domestic Violence

Under section 14 of the Crimes (Domestic and Personal Violence) Act 2007 it is a summary offence to contravene an apprehended violence order. This offence is punishable by up to two years imprisonment.

There are also many offences relating to domestic violence, such as assault and sexual assault, which are indictable offences that carry much harsher penalties when they are dealt with in the higher courts.

Driving offences

Offences under the Road Transport Act 2013 are also summary offences. These include offences like speeding, drink driving, failing to stop after an accident and dangerous driving. Some of these offences can be dealt with by infringement notice, rather than by a court. Many driving offences attract licence suspensions as well as fines and imprisonment.

Drug offences

Offences under Part 2 Division 1 of the New South Wales Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 are summary offences. These include possession of drugs, sale and supply of ice pipes, self-administration of prohibited drugs and possession of equipment for the administration of drugs.

These offences can attract a fine of up to 20 penalty units or a term of imprisonment of up to two years.

Electoral offences

Summary offences are also contained in the Electoral Act 2007. These include electoral bribery, failing to vote, obstructing access to a voting centre and multiple voting.

These offences are punishable by way of a fine only.

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

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