Classification Of Offences



There are basically three types of offences. The classification of offences is important because ultimately the types of offences may well determine which court a case is heard. Whether it be The Crown Court or Magistrates’ Court.

Offences heard in the Magistrates Court will be heard before Lay Magistrates or a District Judge. A District Judge will sit alone whilst Lay Magistrates will usually be two or three in number.

A case which is heard in the Crown Court will be conducted by a Judge and Jury. The Judge will determine the issues of law and sentencing whilst the Jury will be the sole determiners of fact. If a case is heard before the Crown Court normally a unanimous verdict amongst 12 jurors must be announced, alternatively a majority verdict where at least 10 people are agreed will be accepted by the Court.

The three types of offences are classified as summary offences, either way offences or indictable offences.

Summary Offence

A Summary Offence is an offence which on its own will normally only be dealt with at the Magistrates Court. There are occasions where if one faces other matters destined to go to the Crown Court then summary only offences will also be sent to the Crown Court, but in the vast majority of cases a summary only offence will be dealt with at the Magistrates Court.

Either Way Offence

An either way offence is an offence which depending on guidelines given to the Magistrates and also depending on whether a Defendant elects a Crown Court trial, can be either heard in the Magistrates Court or at Crown Court. Either way offences will either be determined by the Magistrates to be suitable, or unsuitable, in the Magistrates Court. Alternatively a Defendant has the right to choose a Crown Court trial before a Jury.

When the defendant has a choice, consideration will have to be given as to which court will be appropriate to hear the case.

Indictable Offence

Indictable offences can only be heard at Crown Court for trial and sentencing after a defendant has made an initial appearance at Magistrates Court. Generally the advantages of a Magistrates Court trial are that cases can be dealt with much more quickly and the Magistrates’ sentencing powers are to an extent limited. The disadvantage of a Magistrates Court trial is that the Crown Prosecution Service may only need to convince one (in the case of a District Judge) or two Magistrates (in the case of a Lay Bench) for a Defendant to be convicted.

The advantage of a Crown Court trial are that the Crown Prosecution Service have to make at least ten Jurors sure that the Defendant is guilty, whilst, the disadvantage of a Crown Court trial is that the case takes longer and the sentencing powers of Judges are greater.


The offence classification mentioned on this site (summary/either way offences and indictable only offences) generally applies to adults and persons under the age of 18 are classified as youths. The general principle is that a youth should be dealt with at a Youth Court rather than a Crown Court. Most cases which a Youth has been charged with will be heard in the local Youth Court.

Youths will normally be dealt with at the Crown Court if a crime is deemed to be a grave crime or where they are charged with an adult and the Court determine that it is in the interests of justice that a youth is dealt with in the Crown Court.