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Charging documents

This page provides an overview of the charging document introduced by the Criminal Procedure Act 2011.

This page provides an overview of the charging document introduced by the Criminal Procedure Act 2011. This page duplicates the content of Infosheet #7: Charging document (PDF, 288 KB) which can be downloaded.

The Criminal Procedure Act 2011 ("the Act"), which fully commences on 1 July 2013, introduces a charging document. A charging document, when filed, commences proceedings against a defendant. Any person may commence a proceeding (section 15) by filing a charging document (section 14).*

The information that must be included in a charging document is set out in the Act and in the Criminal Procedure Rules 2012 (section 16 and rule 3.1). A useable charging document will be accessible from the Ministry of Justice website. 

A copy of the charging document must be disclosed to the defendant as part of initial disclosure (section 12(1)(aa) of the Criminal Disclosure Act 2008).**  

The charge

A charging document must contain only one charge (section 16(1)), unless any other enactment provides otherwise***.  The charge must relate to a single offence but may be a representative charge or be worded in the alternative (section 17(1) and (7)).   

The charge must contain sufficient particulars to fully and fairly inform the defendant of the substance of the alleged offence (section 17(4)), including a reference to the provision creating the offence (section 17(5)(1)(a)). If the penalty for the offence charged is one where the penalty is greater if the defendant has previous convictions, the charge must include the range of penalties available on conviction and the existence of the previous convictions (section 22).

Charges worded in the alternative

A charge may allege several different matters, acts, or omissions in the alternative if the relevant offence is worded in the alternative in the enactment that prescribes it (section 19). The Court may, in the interests of justice, order that a charge worded in the alternative be amended or divided into two or more charges (section 21(1)(a)).

Representative charges

A charge may be representative if multiple offences of the same type are alleged to have been committed in similar circumstances and:

  • the offences are committed over a period of time, and the nature and circumstances of the offences make it unreasonable for the complainant to particularise dates or other details (section 20(1))

or

  • it is likely that the same plea would be entered by the defendant to all offences if charged separately, and it would be unduly difficult for them to be managed separately due to the number of offences (section 20(2)). 

Representative charges must include particulars of the offences of which the charge is representative (for example, particulars of values, amounts or quantities) and the dates on or between which the offending is alleged to have occurred (section 17(6)). The Court may, in the interests of justice, order a representative charge be amended or divided into two or more charges, or that two or more charges be amalgamated into a representative charge (section 21(1)).

Further particulars

The Court may, if satisfied it is necessary for a fair trial, order further particulars of any document, person, thing or other matter relevant to the setting out of the charge be provided by the prosecutor (section 18(1)).

Filing a charging document

Charging documents must be filed in the District Court nearest to where the offence charged is alleged to have occurred, or nearest to where the person filing the charging document believes the defendant can be found, or (if all parties agree) another District Court (section 14). If two or more charging documents are to be filed for the same defendant, they may be filed in a District Court in which any one of them could be filed (section 14(2)(c)). 

A charging document does not need to be sworn when it is filed but must contain a statement by the person commencing the proceeding that he or she has good cause to suspect that the defendant has committed the offence specified in the charge (section 16(2)(c)).****   

Offence relating to false or misleading information in a charging document

The Act creates an offence of including, or directing any other person to include, in a charging document any false or misleading information that the person knows is false or misleading. The offence is punishable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 3 years (section 23).

How to file a charging document

Under rule 2.3(2) a charging document may be filed in person, or by sending it to an electronic system used by the Registry (ie, system-to-system filing; note that initially only the Police will be able to file charging documents via the electronic system).  

Time for filing a charging document

Subject to any provision in any other enactment that provides a different limitation period for filing a charging document the following applies for offences alleged to have been committed after the Act comes fully into force (section 25).*****

Offence Time that a charging document must be filed within (after the date on which the offence was committed)
Category 1 and 2 
  • 6 months if the maximum penalty is not greater than 3 months’ imprisonment (or not greater than $7,500 if no sentence of imprisonment)
  • 12 months if the maximum penalty is greater than 3 months’ imprisonment but not greater than 6 months’ imprisonment (or greater than $7,500 but not greater than $20,000 if no sentence of imprisonment)
  • 5 years in any other case^
Category 3
  • 5 years if the maximum penalty is not greater than 3 years’ imprisonment^
  • Any time in any other case
Category 4 Any time in all cases

^ Unless the Solicitor-General has given prior consent to file a charging document more than 5 years after the offence was committed

*Note that private prosecutor may be required to provide sufficient evidence to justify a trial before a charging document is accepted for filing. This requirement for private prosecutors will be discussed in a later factsheet.

***Section 12(1)(aa) will come into force on 1 July 2013.

**Section 7(1) provides that the Act must be read subject to any special provisions of any other enactment relating to procedure in any particular case. Some enactments, for example s150 of the Tax Administration Act 1994, specifically allow more than one offence to be included in a charging document (these enactments refer to informations rather than charging documents until 1 July 2013).

****The charging document will need to be authenticated by the person responsible for its content (rule 2.2(1)); charging documents can be authenticated by signing and dating (or if an electronic document, then by an electronic means): the Criminal Procedure Rules set out the requirements for authentication of documents (rule 2.2(2)).

*****Offences alleged to have been committed prior to the Act coming fully into force, are subject to the limitation period that applied when the offence was alleged to have been committed (section 405).