In the Northern Territory, a person can be charged with a summary offence or an indictable offence. Summary offences are minor offences that are finalised in the lower courts. Indictable offences are more serious offences. This page deals with summary offences in the Northern Territory.

Which offences are summary offences?

The Summary Offences Act 1923 contains a lot of offences relating to public order. These include loitering offences, violent disorder, offensive conduct and obscenity.

Traffic offences such as drink driving, dangerous driving and driving whilst disqualified are also summary offences.  

Other NT legislation also contains summary offences.


Summary offences are dealt with in the Local Court where the accused is an adult and in the Children’s Court where the accused is under 18.

Penalty for summary offences

In the NT, the maximum penalty that can be imposed for a single summary offence is imprisonment for two years. Many summary offences carry lesser maximum penalties than this and some are punishable by a fine only.

Limitation period

Summary offences have a limitation period of six months. This means that where more than six months have passed since the date of an offence, the offender cannot be charged.

Will I get a conviction?

Under section 8 of the Sentencing Act 1995, a court may decide not to record a conviction against a person who has been found guilty of an offence based on:

  • The person’s age, character, mental condition, health or criminal history;
  • The extent to which the offence is trivial;
  • The extent to which the offence was committed under extenuating circumstances.

Indictable offences dealt with summarily

In the NT, some indictable offences can be dealt with summarily with the consent of prosecution and defence. When this occurs, the matter is finalised in the lower court and the maximum penalty that applies is much lower than in the Supreme Court.

Indictable offences than can be dealt with summarily include stealing, assault and robbery.

Other indictable offences can only be finalised in the Supreme Court. These offences include murder, manslaughter and sex without consent.

Pleading guilty to summary offences in the NT

If you have been charged with summary offences in the NT, you may want to plead guilty and finalise the matter on the spot. In some situations, though, it can be advisable to adjourn the matter to get legal advice or to gather supporting material such as character references. This can ensure that you are fully informed of the consequences of pleading guilty to the charges and that the court is fully aware of your circumstances.

Pleading not guilty to summary offences in the NT

If you have been charged with summary offences in the NT and you want to plead not guilty, you should always obtain legal advice and representation. Go To Court Lawyers can provide you with timely, specialist advice as to:

  • The strength of the case against you
  • Any available defences
  • The likely penalty if you are found guilty
  • The consequences of a conviction

If you plead not guilty in the Local Court, your matter will be allocated a date for a contested hearing. On that date, a magistrate will hear evidence and submissions from prosecution and defence and then decide whether you are guilty of the offence.

If you are found guilty, the magistrate will then decide on the appropriate penalty based on the seriousness of the offence, your circumstances and your criminal history.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.


Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.
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