Indictable Offences in Queensland
Indictable offences are serious offences that can be dealt with in a higher court (the District Court or the Supreme Court). A person who has been charged with an indictable offence has the right to be tried before a jury. While summary offences are always finalised in the summary jurisdiction (Magistrates Court and Children’s Court), many indictable offences can also be heard summarily with the consent of both defence and prosecution. When this happens, the matter is dealt with by a magistrate and a lower maximum penalty applies. This page looks at the processes for dealing with indictable offences in Queensland.
What are indictable offences?
Indictable offences include assault and stealing as well as more serious crimes like rape, murder, manslaughter, and robbery. In Queensland, the majority of indictable offences are contained in the Criminal Code Act 1899. The Drugs Misuse Act 1986 also set out some indictable offences. The Crimes Act 1914 sets out Commonwealth indictable offences.
A limitation period is a time limit within which the prosecution must lay a criminal charge. Summary offences have a relatively short limitation period. Once this period has elapsed, a charge cannot be laid.
There is no limitation period in respect of an indictable offence. These prosecutions can be commenced many years, or even decades, after an offence is alleged to have occurred.
Historical offences may be prosecuted when new evidence comes to light, or where there is a long delay in reporting an offence. A long delay may make it more difficult to prove that an offence occurred as the memories of witnesses may have faded and other forms of evidence may have become unavailable. However, the procedures for prosecuting the matter are the same.
Indictable offences heard summarily
When both parties agree to finalise an indictable matter in a lower court, it can proceed directly to a plea hearing. Alternately, it can be set down for a contested hearing in front of a magistrate.
If the matter is contested, the magistrate will hear evidence and submissions from both defence and prosecution and decide whether the accused has been found guilty. If the accused is found guilty, the maximum penalty that applies for a single offence in the Magistrates Court is three years imprisonment.
Indictable offences that are heard summarily are generally finalised much more quickly than those than are committed to a higher court.
Indictable offences that must be heard summarily
Under section 552A of the Criminal Code, some indictable offences in Queensland must be heard summarily if the prosecution elects for this.
These offences include:
Procedure for offences heard on indictment
When a matter is heard ‘on indictment’ it is committed to a higher court to be finalised. This may be because the offence cannot be dealt with summarily, or because the parties do not consent to the summary jurisdiction. In Queensland, matters that are dealt with on indictment are heard by the District Court and Supreme Court.
The matter will nonetheless be mentioned in the Magistrates Court first. It will then proceed to a committal hearing, where the strength of the prosecution case will be assessed. If there is sufficient evidence that a jury properly instructed could convict the accused, the matter will be committed to a higher court. If the case is not strong enough to support a conviction, the matter will be dismissed.
If the matter is committed, it will proceed to either a jury trial or a plea hearing in front of a judge.
Criminal matters that are contested in the higher courts are generally decided by a jury of twelve people chosen randomly from the electoral roll. The jury decides whether the prosecution has proven the accused guilty of the offence/s beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury returns a guilty verdict, the judge will impose a penalty.
Under section 614 of the Criminal Code, the defence or prosecution can apply for a matter to be heard by a judge alone.
If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.