Sociology Index


Summary Offence is a term used in legal proceedings conducted rapidly by the omission of certain formalities. Summary Offence is less serious criminal offence with a maximum punishment of six months imprisonment, a fine or both. Summary Offence is tried by lower courts. Some offences, however, are hybrids and can thus be defined as summary or indictable Offenses. The common law also includes such summary offences as insulting behaviour or causing a disturbance, but the behaviour of a transsexual person would have to be outrageous to risk arrest or prosecution. In England and Wales in 1995, the average cost of a prosecution for a summary offence, a less serious offence tried at a magistrates court, was 200-300 pounds, and the cost for an indictable offence, a serious crime heard in a crown court, was 2,000 - 3,000 pounds. A summary offence will be dealt with by magistrates' courts and is very unlikely to result in a prison sentence.

In United States, "there are certain minor or petty offenses that may be proceeded against summarily, and without a jury" and which are codified in 18 U.S.C. 19. Any crime punishable by more than six months imprisonment must have some means for a jury trial.

Also Sections 5 & 7 of the Public Order Act 1936 read as follows:

It will be a summary offence for any person in a public place or any public meeting

(a) to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or

(b) to distribute or display any writing, sign or visible representation which is threatening abusive or insulting with intent to provide a breach of the peace or whereby a breach of the peace is likely to be occasioned.

In Canada summary offences are referred to as summary conviction offences. As in other jurisdictions summary conviction offences are considered less serious than indictable offences because they are punishable by shorter prison sentences and smaller fines. These offences appear both in the federal laws of Canada and in the legislation of Canada's provinces and territories. 

For summary conviction offences that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government (which includes all criminal law), section 787 of the Criminal Code of Canada specifies that, unless another punishment is provided for by law, the maximum penalty for a summary conviction offence is a sentence of 6 months of imprisonment, a fine of $5000 or both.