Skip to main content

1. I have heard of "summary offences" and "indictable offences". What are the differences between the two and which court can try these offences?

Broadly speaking, "summary offences"represent the less serious offences, while "indictable offences"represent the more serious offences. Summary offences can only be tried in Magistrates' Courts. The only exception is that a summary offence can be tried in the District Court if the accused person is also charged with an indictable offence. Examples of summary offences include littering, careless driving, and falsely pretending to be a public officer.


If the legislative provision creating the offence contains the words "upon indictment" or "on indictment", then the offence is an indictable offence. Most indictable offences can be tried in the Magistrates' Courts, the District Court or the Court of First Instance of the High Court. The choice of venue of the trial of an indictable offence rests on the prosecution (section 14 of the Criminal Procedure OrdinanceCap. 221), who will normally consider the complexity of the case and the likely sentence to be imposed on the offender upon conviction. For example, if the likely sentence is an imprisonment for four years, then the prosecution will probably choose the District Court for the trial, as it can impose a maximum sentence of 7 years. Magistrates' Courts are not suitable for the trial of such an offence because their maximum sentencing power is only 2 years imprisonment for a single offence.


There are some serious indictable offences which cannot be tried in the Magistrates' Courts. They are set out in Part I of the Schedule 2 to the Magistrates Ordinance (Cap. 227) and include for example drug trafficking offence and shooting another person. The most serious indictable offences set out in Part III of the Schedule 2 to the Magistrates Ordinance can only be tried in the Court of First Instance of the High Court with a jury (e.g. murder or manslaughter).


The time limit for prosecution of a summary offence is generally within 6 months of the commission of the offence (unless otherwise specified in the legislation creating the offence). For an indictable offence, there is no formal time limit for the commencement of a prosecution.