What is the Summary Offences Act NSW?

If you have been involved with the legal system in NSW in any capacity, you will probably have heard the term ‘summary offences’ used.

Maybe you have been charged with an offence that has been described as a ‘summary offence’ and you are unsure what the term actually means.

Here is a brief explanation of the offences that come under the Summary Offences Act NSW, how summary offences are dealt with, and the possible penalties you face.

What is a summary offence?

Summary offences are listed in the Summary Offences Act NSW 1998, and cover a range of non-serious offences, which are dealt with solely in the local court, or the children’s court if there are minors involved.

There are a number of different offences listed under this act, including:

  • Offensive conduct
  • Indecent exposure
  • Minors in sex clubs
  • Possession of liquor by minors
  • Obstructing traffic

Here is a full list of the summary offences.

How are summary offences dealt with?

Summary offences are dealt with in the local court rather than district or Supreme Court, but they can still have substantial penalties, including imprisonment.

Even if you have been charged with a summary, rather than an indictable offence, seeking advice from an experienced lawyer is essential.

If you are charged with a summary offence, a magistrate will hear your case.

Due to their less serious nature, summary offences are generally dealt with more quickly than more serious offences, which require a trial by jury.

In some cases, you may have the option of having your offence dealt with summarily (as a summary offence) or through a jury as an indictable offence.

The best option for you will depend on the nature of the offence, and the circumstances surrounding it, so make sure you seek appropriate legal advice before you decide.

What are the penalties for a summary offence?

Your penalty will depend on the exact offence.

Summary offences can come with a maximum jail term of two years, and a range of other potential penalties, including:

  • Fines
  • Community service orders
  • Suspended sentences
  • Good behaviour bonds
  • Home detention

As summary offences are criminal offences, if you are found guilty you will have a criminal conviction that may affect your employment and travel prospects in the future.

Can I avoid a criminal conviction?

You can successfully avoid a criminal conviction for a summary offence if you can obtain a Section 10 from the magistrate.

A Section 10 is a finding of guilt without a criminal conviction.

Speak to your criminal lawyer to find out whether applying for a Section 10 is appropriate in your situation.

There are a few things you can do to help increase your chances of obtaining a more lenient sentence or even getting a Section 10, including providing character references, and where applicable, undergoing treatment for underlying alcohol, drug or emotional health issues.

Although summary offences are not generally considered to be as severe as indictable offences, it is still important to take any summary offence charge seriously.

Having a criminal conviction can have a significant impact on your future, but with the right legal representation this can often be avoided.

Make sure you get legal advice from experienced professionals who have in-depth knowledge of summary offences, and how they are dealt with.

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About Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Specialist Criminal Lawyer and Principal at Sydney Criminal Lawyers, Sydney's leading firm of criminal and traffic defence lawyers.
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