In British Columbia there are 3 main types of criminal offences. They are (1) purely summary conviction offences, (2) purely indictable offences, and (3) hybrid offences.
These 3 types of offences are set out in the Criminal Code of Canada.
Purely summary conviction offences
The list of summary conviction offences is set out in section 553 of the Criminal Code. These are the most minor charges compared to indictable and hybrid offences. Examples include theft (under $5,000) and mischief charges.
Purely indictable offences
Indictable offences are the most serious criminal offences. These offences are set out in section 469 of the Criminal Code. Examples of indictable offences include murder and treason.
Hybrid offences are all those not listed in either section 553 or 469 of the Criminal Code. The majority of criminal offences in Canada are hybrid.
What hybrid offence method is the prosecutor can choose whether to classify an offence as summary conviction or indictable. How a charge is classified determines how a charge is processed by the criminal court system.
course of action: summary conviction vs. indictable
The two main differences are (1) the maximum punishments, and (2) the court course of action.
When the prosecutor has the option to choose (i.e. hybrid offence), the summary conviction maximum punishments are often less harsh than indictable classification.
For example, an impaired driving charge (aka operating while impaired) is a hybrid offence where the prosecutor can choose to proceed summarily or by indictment. As an indictable offence, the maximum punishment is 5 years in jail; as a summary conviction offence, the maximum punishment is 18 months.
Another difference is the court course of action.
In British Columbia, criminal situations are processed and heard provincial courts and supreme courts. All trials in Provincial Court are heard by estimate alone, while trials in Supreme Court may be heard by a estimate alone or estimate and jury.
Purely summary conviction offences (those listed in section 553 in the Criminal Code) are processed and heard only in Provincial Court. This method that an accused doesn’t have the option for a jury or a preliminary inquiry.
If a charge is a hybrid offence, and the prosecutor classifies it as indictable, then the accused can choose whether to have the case processed and heard in Provincial Court or Supreme Court.
The main difference with Supreme Court is the option for a jury and preliminary inquiry (a pre-trial hearing where the prosecutor presents evidence to the court to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to continue against the accused).
If the prosecutor chooses to classify and proceed by indictment (i.e. indictable offence), then the accused chooses whether to have the case heard in Provincial Court or in Supreme Court by estimate alone or estimate and jury.
Purely indictable offences (those listed in section 469 of the Criminal Code) are processed and heard only in Supreme Court. The default trial mode is estimate and jury; however, if the accused and prosecutor consent, the trial may be heard by estimate alone.
That sets out the 3 types of criminal offences in British Columbia.