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Indictable Offences in Victoria

Indictable offences are serious criminal offences, many of which are set out in the Crimes Act 1958. A person who is charged with an indictable offence has the right to be tried by a jury but a lot of indictable offences can also be finalised by a magistrate. This page is about indictable offences in Victoria.

What is an indictable offence?

In Victoria, an indictable offence is one that attracts a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment or more.

Indictable offences include murder, rape, assault, manslaughter, making threats to kill, and theft. These offences are contained in the Crimes Act 1958. The Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 also contains indictable offences involving the trafficking, supply and cultivation of drugs of dependence.

Indictable offences heard summarily

Some indictable offences can be dealt with summarily (by a magistrate in the Magistrates Court or Children’s Court) if the accused and the magistrate both agree. There are advantages and disadvantages to having an indictable offence dealt with by a magistrate. Offences that are often dealt with in the lower courts include assault and theft.

When an indictable offence is finalized by a magistrate, two years imprisonment is the maximum penalty for a single charge. The maximum aggregate sentence that can be imposed for multiple offences is five years imprisonment. Matters that are finalized summarily are generally completed much quicker than matters that are committed to higher courts. On the other hand, indictable offence matters that require complex legal argument may be more suited to the higher courts. An accused person may also choose to have a higher court deal with a matter so they can be tried by a jury.

Strictly indictable offences

Strictly indictable offences can only be finalized in the higher courts. These are very serious offences like murder, manslaughter, rape, treason and terrorism offences. Many of these offences have a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life.

Offences heard on indictment

When an offence is committed to the County Court or Supreme Court, this is known as ‘being heard on indictment.’ The accused will either be tried by a jury or will have a plea hearing in front of a judge.

A criminal matter that is to be heard on indictment still begins in the Magistrates Court. The matter will go through a number of procedural staged in the Magistrates Court. The defence will obtain the brief of evidence and the matter will go through a committal hearing.

A committal hearing is a pre-trial procedure where the case against the accused is tested. If there is enough evidence to support a conviction, the matter will then be committed to the County Court or Supreme Court. If there is not enough evidence that a jury could find the accused guilty, the charge will be dismissed.

Committal hearings exist to make sure that the time of the higher courts is not wasted on weak prosecutions. They also speed up the progress of indictable matters. The higher court can refer to the findings of the magistrate.

At a committal hearing, the magistrate may also decide whether an indictable matter is appropriate to be dealt with summarily.


In Victoria, criminal trials in the County Court and Supreme Court are decided by a jury of twelve people selected at random. The jury is responsible for returning a verdict after hearing evidence and submissions. If the jury returns a guilty verdict, the judge will then impose a sentence.

Limitation periods

There is no limitation period for starting a prosecution for an indictable offence. This means that the police can charge a person many years or even decades after an event. This may be because there has been a delay in making the allegation or because insufficient evidence was available at the time and further evidence has subsequently emerged.

Summary offences have a short limitation period – generally six or 12 months. After this period has passed, a prosecution cannot be commenced.

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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