Friday, 01 March 2019

What Is a Summons?

Written by Jakub Grzybowski

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A summons is a legal notice you issue on someone to inform them of their requirement to partake in a legal proceeding. This is a formal order requiring you to respond to a civil claim or criminal charge brought against you, give evidence for some matter, or provide other relevant documents. You must respond to this notice or risk losing your case by default. Here are useful points about the nature of a summons, methods of service and its ramifications.


A summons should include the following information:

  • The name of the person who will receive the order
  • A declaration that you have asked the person to give evidence or documents voluntarily
  • Outline the person’s response to your request that they give evidence or documents voluntarily, or explain why you have not made this request
  • Describe any documents you are requesting
  • Explain how the evidence or documents relate to an issue in dispute in the proceedings

Additionally, a summons is mandatory for certain situations, but to maintain the notices’ success, here are some situations that may be refused:

  • You should not call for the creation of a document
  • It cannot be too broad, eg. all documents, invoices, correspondence relating to property X;
  • You should not relate your order to a not clearly relevant issue in dispute
  • You should not issue it at an inappropriate stage of the proceedings.

Types of Summons

A summons serves as a notice of a pending court case. This is served on the defendant and in most cases, they are the ones being sued. However, varying occasions and offences call for different orders.

Judicial summons

Serve this on a person in a legal proceeding, ie. someone against whom legal action may be brought against or someone who is required as a witness. This document will provide the date for court attendance or, in some cases, a requirement to respond to the other parties in writing.

Court attendance notice/administrative summons

Law enforcement officials typically serve this for minor traffic offences, misdemeanours or other summary offences. In Australia, you are able to pay fines for such notices or contest the offence in court.

Civil summons

This is similar to the judicial option but its main purpose is for civil proceedings. This generally creates an obligation for someone to attend court to resolve the dispute.


You must serve a summons in a specific manner. Generally, this is done through personal service, either by a court official or an administrative service agency. In smaller courts, service by mail may be appropriate. Or, in exceptional circumstances, service may be made through publication where it is difficult to find the location of the person of interest.

You must correctly serve a summons or you risk it not being legally valid. The summons may state the allotted time that you have to respond and this is why it is imperative that you serve the order correctly. You should consult a lawyer for legal advice as to how to proceed if issued with such a notice.


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