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How Long After An Assault Can You Press Charges? (Qld)

How long after an assault can you press charges? This is a question lawyers are often asked. Firstly, it is important to understand that it is the police, and not the victim of a crime, who make the decision as to whether or not to lay charges. The limitation period for laying criminal charges depends on the nature of the alleged offences. While summary offences have a relatively short limitation period within which they can be charged, serious offences like serious assault and murder are not subject to a limitation period.

Police make the decision to lay charges

When a person has reported an offence to police, the police may make the decision to lay charges if they think it is appropriate to do so. It is not up to the alleged victim to “press charges” and in some situations, charges may be laid even when the victim does not want the prosecution to occur. Police may also make the decision not to lay charges even though the victim wishes the alleged offender to be charged.

The decision as to whether or not to lay charges will be made based on a number of factors, such as the strength of the case against the alleged offender, the seriousness of the allegations and whether it is in the public interest for the alleged offender to be charged.

How long after a summary assault can you press charges?

In Queensland, summary offences are dealt with in the Magistrates Court, which can impose a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment for a single offence. Summary offences are also known as misdemeanours. Summary offences are minor offences such as public nuisance and being drunk in a public place. Many summary offences are contained in the Summary Offences Act 2005. Many traffic offences under the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 are also summary offences – for example, speeding and drink driving.

In Queensland, police can lay a charge for a summary offence up to one year from the date of the alleged offence. This is stipulated under section 52 of the Justices Act 1886. However, this provision also states that if the accused was charged with an indictable offence and the proceeding was discontinued by prosecution, a summary offence charge can be laid up to two years from the date of the alleged offending.

An example of this would be where a person is charged with an assault causing grievous bodily harm (an indictable offence) as a result of alleged offending. If the prosecution subsequently becomes aware that it has insufficient evidence to prove that the victim suffered grievous bodily harm, it may decide to withdraw the charge. The prosecution may then choose to lay a charge of common assault (a summary offence) if it has sufficient evidence to prove that a common assault occurred. This would have to be done within two years of the alleged assault.

How long after an indictable assault can you press charges?

In Queensland, some indictable offences may be dealt with in the Magistrates Court if the defence consents to this. This is the case, for example, with a charge of assault occasioning bodily harm. However, if the defence does not consent to the matter being dealt with summarily, the matter will need to be committed to the District Court to be finalised.

The most serious criminal matters, such as murder, are strict indictable offences and can only be finalised in the Supreme Court.

Indictable offences are not subject to a limitation period in Queensland. This means that police can lay charges such as assault occasioning bodily harm or serious assault many years – even decades – after the alleged offence.

Prosecuting historical offences

Offences that were committed long ago are often referred to as “historical offences”. There can be benefits and detriments to prosecuting a matters many years after the event. In some cases, it may be harder for the prosecution to prove a person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt when a lot of time has passed as witnesses’ memories may have faded and physical evidence may have been lost or destroyed.

In other cases, it may be easier to prove a person guilty of a crime that occurred many years ago as new technologies – such as the ability to collect and analyse DNA – may now exist that did not exist at the time of the offence. For this reason, prosecutions that were abandoned long ago are sometimes successfully reopened.

Reporting historical offences

If you were the victim of a serious assault that occurred more than 12 months ago and you did not report the offence at the time, you can still choose to report the offence and make a statement to police. This can be done by phone, online, or in person, at a police station.

Historical offences are generally treated as non-urgent so you may have to wait a considerable time before the police have time to deal with your matter. The time of the wait will depend on how busy the police are at the time.

It is important to remember that the decision as to whether to prosecute a person for a criminal offence ultimately lies with the police.

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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