Summary Offences in Western Australia

In WA, criminal offences include summary offences, indictable offences and either way offences. Summary offences are dealt with in the Magistrates Court. Indictable offences are heard by the District Court or Supreme Court. Either way offences can be dealt with by a magistrate in a lower court, or committed to a higher court, depending on the circumstances. This page deals with the laws surrounding summary offences in Western Australia.

Which offences are summary offences?

Summary offences include traffic offences and minor criminal offences.

Many of the offences in the Road Traffic Act 1974 are summary offences. These include dangerous driving, drink driving and driving while disqualified.

The Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 contains a lot of summary offences, including disorderly behaviour in public under section 74A and trespass under section 70A.

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1981 contains summary offences relating to drugs, including the offence of selling drug paraphernalia under section 7B and allowing premises to be used for the preparation, sale or supply or a prohibited drug or plant under section 5.

There are also summary offences set out in other Western Australian legislation.

Penalties for summary offences

The maximum penalty that can be imposed for a single offence in the Western Australian Magistrates Court is three years imprisonment. Some summary offences have lower maximum penalties and some are punishable by a fine only. In practice, a person who is found guilty of a summary offence may be given a fine, a community-based order, a conditional release order, or a term of imprisonment.

Will I get a conviction?

Western Australian courts may make a spent conviction order if an offence is trivial, and the offender is of prior good character. When a conviction is ‘spent’, it does not appear on the person’s National Police Certificate, and they are not obliged to disclose it under most circumstances. Essentially, a spent conviction order means the person does not suffer any adverse effects from having a conviction recorded.

Spent conviction orders are made under section 45 of the Sentencing Act 1995.

Limitation period

A limitation period is how long the police have to lay a charge and commence a prosecution after an offence. Summary offences in Western Australia have a 12-month limitation period. If an offence is reported more than 12 months after it is committed, the offender cannot be charged.

Either way offences

Either way offences are offences that can be dealt with either in the Magistrates Court or Children’s Court or committed to a higher court to be dealt with on indictment. These offences have two maximum penalties: one that applies when they are treated as summary offences and another that applies when dealt with on indictment.

Either way offences in WA include indecent assault, fraud, and possessing stolen property.

An either way offence is dealt with as a summary offence unless there is an application by either the defence or the prosecution for the matter to be dealt with on indictment. This may occur because of the seriousness of the allegations, because a co-offender is to be dealt with on indictment, or because it is in the interests of justice.

Pleading guilty to summary offences in WA

If you have been charged with summary offences in Western Australia, you will be required to attend the Magistrates Court. If you want to plead guilty, you may be able to finalise the matter on the spot. Alternately, you can adjourn the matter to seek legal advice and gather supporting material such as character references.

Pleading not guilty to summary offences in WA

If you have been charged with summary offences in WA and want to plead not guilty, your matter will need to go through several procedural stages before it is finalised. This will include obtaining the prosecution brief of evidence, attending a summary case conference to see whether the matter can be resolved, and obtaining a date for a contested hearing.

At the contested hearing, a magistrate will hear evidence and submissions from both parties. They will then decide whether you have been proven guilty. If you are found guilty, they will then impose a penalty. If you are found not guilty, the charge will be dismissed.

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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