Summary offences are usually less serious offences. They are heard by a judicial officer in the Magistrates’ Court rather than by a judge and/or jury. If you have been charged with a summary offence, you should seek legal advice.
You should seek legal advice if you have been charged by the police. See the legal help page for more information.
Summary offences make up most matters heard in the Magistrates’ Court and can include:
- disorderly behaviour
- some assault offences
- driving offences
- wilful damage to property.
See the Summary Offences Act 1966 for more information.
Generally, the prosecuting agency has 12 months from the date of the offence to start court proceedings.
If you have been charged with a criminal offence you may be eligible for the Criminal Justice Diversion Program. See the diversion page for more information.
There are different types of hearings in the summary stream of the Magistrates’ Court.
This is the first hearing for criminal matters. If you intend to plead guilty, the matter can generally be heard and determined at a mention hearing. If you intent to plead not guilty, a judicial officer will adjourn your hearing for a contest mention hearing or a contest hearing and make any directions that the court considers appropriate.
See the pleading guilty or not guilty page for information about summary case conferences.
If the accused person intends to plead not guilty, the matter will be adjourned to a contest mention.
In this hearing the magistrate will try to determine if the matter can be resolved by:
- the prosecuting agency withdrawing the charge/s in dispute; and/or
- the prosecuting agency and/or the accused person narrowing the issue(s) in dispute; and/or
- the accused person agreeing to plead guilty to the charge/s.
If the matter/s cannot be resolved they will be listed for a contest hearing.
The magistrate may also ask the parties to provide an estimate about the amount of time needed to hear the matter and how many witnesses may be called. The magistrate may also make any directions that the court considers appropriate for the running of the contest hearing.
This hearing will take place if the accused person pleads not guilty to the alleged charge/s. At this hearing, both the prosecuting agency and accused person and/or their lawyer present their case to the court. Witnesses can be called to give evidence and cross-examined. The judicial officer will hear both parties’ evidence and determine the outcome of the matter.
If you do not attend court in respect of a summary offence, the court may hear the matter in your absence, an ex-parte hearing.
If you do not attend to court and the court does not consider it appropriate to hear the matter in your absence, the court may adjourn the matter or may issue a warrant for your arrest in order for you to be brought before the court.
At an ex-parte hearing, the judicial officer will proceed to hear and determine a charge based on:
- the evidence of the prosecuting agency
- the preliminary brief (e.g. witness statements) served on the accused person
- any witnesses.
This is not a full list of legislation associated with this topic. See the Victorian Government's legislation website for more information.