Indictable vs Summary Conviction Offences in Canadian Law

Indictable vs Summary Conviction Offences in Canadian Law

In Canadian law, offences are categorized into two main types: indictable offences and summary conviction offences. 

These classifications determine the seriousness of the crime and the procedures followed in court. Knowing about these groups is like understanding the big and small parts of how Canadian law works. 

So, we will look closer at indictable vs summary conviction offences in Canadian law, how they differ, and why they matter in the Canadian legal system.

Differences Between Indictable and Summary Conviction: Everything You Need to Know

Learning about the differences between indictable and summary conviction offences helps us understand Canada’s laws better. Let’s see how these crimes differ and why they matter in the legal system.

Indictable Offences

Indictable offences are considered more serious crimes in Canada. They enclose a wide range of offences, from major crimes like murder and sexual assault to certain types of theft and fraud. These crimes often carry harsh penalties due to their severity. 

For example, sentences for indictable offences may include longer prison terms, sometimes even life imprisonment, depending on the nature of the crime.

There are different levels of indictable offences:

First-Degree Murder

This is the most serious crime and involves deliberate planning and premeditation. It carries a mandatory life sentence with no eligibility for parole for at least 25 years.

Second-Degree Murder

While still very serious, this doesn’t involve the same level of premeditation as first-degree murder. It also carries a mandatory life sentence but with eligibility for parole after 10 to 25 years.

Other Indictable Offences

These can range from serious assaults and drug trafficking to major thefts or frauds. Penalties for these crimes vary but are typically severe, involving lengthy imprisonment.

For indictable offences, the accused can choose whether they want to be tried by a judge alone or by a judge and jury. The trial process is more formal and extensive, involving more court appearances and legal proceedings.

Summary Conviction Offences

Summary conviction offences are less severe in nature and include offences like minor theft, some types of assault, and minor drug possession. These offences are considered less serious than indictable offences and usually carry lesser penalties. The maximum penalty for a summary conviction offence is a $5,000 fine and/or six months in jail.

The trial process for summary conviction offences is simpler than for indictable offences. The accused does not have the option for a jury trial and instead appears before a judge. The proceedings are generally quicker, and there are fewer formalities involved.

Hybrid Offences

Some offences in Canada are considered hybrid offences, which means they can be treated as either indictable or summary conviction offences based on the severity of the case. The prosecution determines how they will proceed with these cases based on various factors like the nature of the offence and the defendant’s criminal history.

The classification of whether an offence is indictable, summary conviction, or hybrid can significantly impact the legal process, the severity of penalties, and the available legal options for the accused. Knowing these differences helps determine how things work in Canada’s legal system.

Why is it Important to Know the Differences?

Understanding the differences between summary, indictable, and hybrid offences is important for several reasons:

Legal Procedures

Different offences follow different legal procedures. Understanding the classification helps defendants and legal professionals navigate the legal process correctly. For instance, the court procedures, available defences, and potential sentencing options can vary based on the offence’s classification.


Each classification carries its own range of penalties. Knowing the potential consequences of a charge helps defendants understand the gravity of the situation and allows them to prepare a suitable defence strategy.

Court Jurisdiction

Different courts handle these classifications. Summary offences are often handled in lower courts, while indictable offences are heard in higher courts. Knowing the classification determines where the case will be tried and the type of legal proceedings involved.

Prosecution Strategies

Knowing the classification of an offence helps prosecutors decide on the appropriate strategy for pursuing the case. Hybrid offences, for example, offer flexibility in choosing whether to proceed with summary conviction or by indictment, giving prosecutors discretion based on the circumstances.

Legal Rights

Defendants have specific legal rights based on the nature of the offence. For instance, in indictable offences, defendants might have the right to trial by jury, whereas summary offences may not involve a jury trial. Knowing these rights ensures individuals understand their legal standing.

Sentencing and Rehabilitation

Understanding the seriousness of an offence helps to decide how serious the punishment should be. This way, the punishment matches how bad the crime was. It allows for a fair and legal system that aims not only for punishment but rehabilitation where applicable.

Knowledge about the offence classifications is key for legal exploration, penalty awareness, fair treatment, and proper representation based on the offence severity. It also guides legal professionals in building a defence or prosecution strategy according to the specific type of offence.

Final Words

Indictable offences are serious crimes with harsh penalties, while summary conviction offences are less severe and carry light punishments. The classification of the offence plays a significant role in determining the legal process and the potential consequences for the accused in Canadian law.

Knowing the difference between indictable and summary conviction offences is crucial because it shapes the legal process. It determines where the trial happens, who decides the verdict, and what penalties could be faced. 

For someone accused of a crime, understanding the category helps them protect their legal rights and the seriousness of the situation. Awareness of these distinctions can significantly impact a case’s outcome, affecting everything from potential sentences to available legal options.


Can I request a specific trial type for my case?

Typically, the choice between trial types rests with the prosecutor. However, in certain situations, if the offence allows for both types of trials, you may, with your lawyer’s guidance, make representations to the court to influence the trial type.

Are there instances where an offence can be both indictable and summary conviction?

Yes, certain offences in Canadian law can be prosecuted either way, based on the prosecutor’s discretion and the circumstances of the case. These are called hybrid offences.

What happens if I’m initially charged with an indictable offence but later found to be a summary conviction offence?

The trial may proceed as a summary conviction in such cases. However, it’s crucial to consult legal counsel, as this change might affect your case’s legal strategies and potential penalties.

Can a summary conviction offence lead to a criminal record?

Yes, summary conviction offences are still considered criminal convictions in Canada. They can result in a criminal record, impacting employment opportunities and travel.

Can someone face indictable and summary conviction charges for the same incident?

No, an accused person typically faces one type of charge for a single incident. However, the prosecutor might initially charge both and proceed with the appropriate one based on the evidence.