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 means 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 through the criminal court system.
Process: summary conviction vs. indictable
The two main differences are (1) the maximum punishments, and (2) the court process.
When the prosecutor has the option to choose (i.e. hybrid offence), the summary conviction maximum punishments are often less severe 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 process.
In British Columbia, criminal cases are processed and heard provincial courts and supreme courts. All trials in Provincial Court are heard by judge alone, whereas trials in Supreme Court may be heard by a judge alone or judge and jury.
Purely summary conviction offences (those listed in section 553 in the Criminal Code) are processed and heard only in Provincial Court. This means 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 judge alone or judge 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 judge and jury; however, if the accused and prosecutor consent, the trial may be heard by judge alone.
That sets out the 3 types of criminal offences in British Columbia.