Summary offence

A summary offence is a crime in some common law jurisdictions that can be proceeded against summarily, without the right to a jury trial and/or indictment.


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, section 787 of the Criminal Code specifies that, unless another punishment is provided for by law, the maximum penalty for a summary conviction offence is a sentence of 2 years less a day of imprisonment, a fine of $5,000 or both.
As a matter of practical effect, some common differences between summary conviction and indictable offences are provided below.

Summary conviction offences

In Hong Kong, trials for summary offences are heard in one of the territory's Magistrates' Courts.

United Kingdom

In relation to England and Wales, the expression "summary trial" means a trial in the magistrates' court. In such proceedings there is no jury; the appointed judge, or a panel of three lay magistrates, decides the guilt or innocence of the accused. Each summary offence is specified by statute which describes the offence and the judge to hear it. A summary procedure can result in a summary conviction. A "summary offence" is one which, if charged to an adult, can only be tried by summary procedure. Similar procedures are also used in Scotland.
Certain offences that may be tried in a Crown Court may be required to be tried summarily if the value involved is small; such offences are still considered either way offences, so are not thereby "summary offences" in the meaning of that term defined by statute. Contrariwise, certain summary offences may in certain circumstances be tried on indictment along with other offences that are themselves indictable; they do not thereby become "indictable offences" or "either way offences" but remain "summary offences", though tried by jury.
Sir William Blackstone, in his Commentaries on the Laws of England, described summary offences thus:
In the United Kingdom, trials for summary offences are heard in one of a number of types of lower court. For England and Wales this is the Magistrates' Court. In Scotland, it is the Sheriff Court or Justice of the peace court, depending on the offence. Northern Ireland has its own Magistrates' Court system.

United States

In the United States, "there are certain minor or petty offenses that may be proceeded against summarily, and without a jury". These include criminal citations. Any crime punishable by more than six months of imprisonment must have some means for a jury trial. Some states, such as California, provide that all common law crimes and misdemeanors require a jury trial. Some states provide that in all offenses the defendant may demand a jury trial.
Contempt of court is considered a prerogative of the court, as "the requirement of a jury does not apply to 'contempts committed in disobedience of any lawful writ, process, order, rule, decree, or command entered in any suit or action brought or prosecuted in the name of, or on behalf of, the United States. There have been criticisms over the practice. In particular, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote in a 1964 dissent, "It is high time, in my judgment, to wipe out root and branch the judge-invented and judge-maintained notion that judges can try criminal contempt cases without a jury."