The minor offences are called simple offences or summary offences like drink driving, minor assault, public nuisance, drug cases of small amounts and shoplifting. Serious offences are known as crimes and misdemeanours or indictable offences. Robbery, murder, rape and drug cases of large amounts are examples of indictable offences
A person who is arrested for a criminal offence is served with a warrant of arrest and taken to a watchhouse. There the defendant will be charged, photographed and fingerprinted. An application for bail may be granted by the watchhouse keeper but if denied, the accused must be brought to the court where he can apply for bail.
If a person is not arrested he will be informed that a charge has been filed against him through a complaint and summons or a notice to appear. These are both in writing and will inform the accused of the date he has to appear before the court. The difference between the two is that the complaint and summons is sworn before a justice of the peace while the notice to appear is not. A person who receives these notices is also entitled to bail and it will be the magistrate who decides on the application.
The first right of a person accused of a criminal offence is the right to a lawyer. Even if an accused is in the watchhouse he can ask to speak to a lawyer or contact his family to get one for him. The second right of an accused is to remain silent which will not be construed as a sign of his guilt. The police who arrested the accused have the obligation under the law to inform the accused of these two rights.
The accused has the right to be fully informed of the charge against him. If the accused is arrested, police are obligated to provide information about the charge by handing over a charge sheet. The accused must also get a copy of the police brief which includes the sworn statements of the police and his criminal history. These documents are needed for the accused to be able to completely assess his case. However, if the accused was served a complaint and summons or a notice to appear he will usually know the details of the charge against him once he gets to court.
Since summary offences are of a less serious nature these are normally heard in the Magistrate Courts while indictable offences are filed in the District or Supreme Court. By the time the case is called in court the accused must have already decided whether he is going to plead guilty to the charge or not.
Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.