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Indictable Offences in Melbourne

Criminal offences in Melbourne and the rest of Victoria are dealt with differently depending on whether they are summary offences, indictable offences or strictly indictable offences. A summary offence is a minor offence that is dealt with summarily, meaning it is finalised by a Magistrate, either in the Magistrate Court (where the accused is an adult) or in the Children’s Court (where the accused is a child). Indictable offences in Melbourne, when dealt with on indictment, are finalised in the higher courts. This may occur in the County Court or in the Supreme Court, depending on the offence.

Legislation on indictable offences in Melbourne

There are number of acts containing indictable offences that a person can be charged with in Melbourne or elsewhere in Victoria. These include the Crimes Act 1958 and the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981. There are also indictable offences that can be prosecuted in Melbourne under federal legislation such as terrorism offences and drug importation offences.

Indictable or strictly indictable?

Indictable offences include some quite commonly charged criminal acts such as theft, intentionally or recklessly causing injury and assault. These offences can be dealt with by a magistrate if both the defence and the prosecution consent.

When indictable offences in Melbourne are dealt with by a magistrate, the maximum penalty that applies is much lower than the maximum that can be imposed in a higher court. The longest sentence a magistrate can impose for a single charge in Victoria is two years imprisonment.

There are also other advantages of having an indictable offence heard summarily. It generally takes far less time for the matter to be finalised and it is finalised through a less formal process. The legal costs involved are lower.

However, in some instances, there can be advantages to having a matter dealt with in a higher court. This may be because a party wants to advance complex legal arguments or because it is desirable for the matter to be tried before a jury. For this reason, either the defence or prosecution may decide not to consent to a matter being heard summarily. If that occurs, the matter will proceed to be committed to a higher court. 

Offences that are strictly indictable can only be heard in the higher courts. These offences include very serious crimes such as murder, manslaughter, rape, treason and terrorism offences. This is because courts of summary jurisdiction do not have the power to impose penalties that can sufficiently address such serious offending. These matters must always be committed to a higher court for finalisation and generally take months or even years to reach final resolution. 

What is the process for dealing with indictable offences in Melbourne?

If a matter is to be heard on indictment in Victoria, it must go through a process known as a committal hearing. This will occur in the Magistrates Court or Children’s Court. The committal process must occur regardless of whether the accused is planning to plead guilty or not guilty to the charge.

After an accused has been charged with indictable offences, the matter will be adjourned for a committal mention. This is an administrative court event that occurs before the committal hearing. Prior to the committal mention, the prosecution must provide the defence with the brief of evidence, which contains all the evidence the prosecution intends to rely on. The defence can then assess the strength of the case against the accused. At the committal mention, the magistrate will determine whether any of the charges can be finalised by a magistrate and whether the defence will be given permission to cross-examine witnesses at the committal hearing. He or she will then set a date for the committal hearing.

Committal hearings

At the committal hearing, the magistrate will assess whether there is enough evidence against the accused for the matter to be committed to a higher court. The parties will make submissions about the strength of the evidence. If there is enough evidence for the matter to be committed to a higher court, the magistrate will order this to occur. If there is insufficient evidence to support a finding of guilt against the accused, the magistrate will dismiss the matter.

In matters where it is clear that there is enough evidence for the matter to be committed to a higher court, the defence may consent to the matter being committed. In this case, there will be no need for evidence to be heard or for submission to be made. This is most likely to occur in case where the accused is pleading guilty. 

If you require legal advice or representation in relation to indictable offences in Melbourne or in any other legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.

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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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