A summons (also known in England and Wales as a claim form and in the Australian state of New South Wales as a court attendance notice (CAN)) is a legal document issued by a court (a ''judicial summons'') or by an administrative agency of government (an ''administrative summons'') for various purposes.

Judicial summons

A judicial summons is served on a person involved in a legal proceeding. Legal action may be in progress against the person, or the person's presence as witness may be required. In the former case, the summons will typically announce to the person to whom it is directed that a legal proceeding has been started against that person, and that a case has been initiated in the issuing court. In some jurisdictions, it may be drafted in
legal English Legal English is the type of English as used in legal writing. In general, a legal language is a formalized language based on logic rules which differs from the ordinary natural language in vocabulary, morphology, syntax, and semantics, as ...
difficult for the layman to understand, while several U.S. states expressly require summonses to be drafted in
plain English Plain English (or layman's terms) are groups of words that are to be clear and easy to know. It usually avoids the use of rare words and uncommon euphemisms to explain the subject. Plain English wording is intended to be suitable for almost anyone, ...
and that they must start with this phrase: "Notice! You have been sued." The summons announces a date by which the person or persons summoned must either appear in court, or respond in writing to the court or the opposing party or parties. The summons is the descendant of the
writ In common law, a writ (Anglo-Saxon ''gewrit'', Latin ''breve'') is a formal written order issued by a body with administrative or judicial jurisdiction; in modern usage, this body is generally a court. Warrants, prerogative writs, subpoena ...
of the common law. It replaces the former procedure in common-law countries by which the plaintiff actually had to ask the sheriff to arrest the defendant in order for the court to obtain
personal jurisdiction Personal jurisdiction is a court's jurisdiction over the ''parties'', as determined by the facts in evidence, which bind the parties to a lawsuit, as opposed to subject-matter jurisdiction, which is jurisdiction over the ''law'' involved in the ...
in both criminal and civil actions.

Types of summonses

Citation/claim (legal term)

A citation, traffic violation ticket, or notice to appear is a type of summons prepared and served at the scene of the occurrence by a law enforcement official, compelling the appearance of a defendant before the local magistrate within a certain period of time to answer for a minor traffic infraction,
misdemeanor A misdemeanor (American English, spelled misdemeanour elsewhere) is any "lesser" criminal act in some common law legal systems. Misdemeanors are generally punished less severely than more serious felonies, but theoretically more so than admi ...
, or other
summary offence A summary offence or petty offence is a violation in some common law jurisdictions that can be proceeded against summarily, without the right to a jury trial and/or indictment (required for an indictable offence). Canada In Canada, summary of ...
. Failure to appear within the allotted period of time is a separate crime of
failure to appear A "failure to appear" (FTA) occurs when a defendant or respondent does not come before a tribunal as directed in a summons. FTAs are also known as "bail jumping." In the United States, FTAs are punishable by fines, incarceration, or both when comm ...
. In
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands. With an area of , Australia is the largest country b ...
, minor traffic and some summary offences are known as an infringement notice or a fine and can be dealt with by paying a particular monetary amount depending on the offence. The accused person has the right to have the matter heard in a court; if found not guilty the accused person pays nothing other than his legal costs (if any); if found guilty the accused person faces the prospect of a conviction for the offence and/or a substantial increase in the fine up to the maximum. For example, proceeding through a red light could go from A$353 up to A$2,200 if convicted in NSW. For more serious offences, a field court attendance notice is issued. In the United Kingdom and Hong Kong, law enforcement officials may deal with certain minor offences, such as
litter Litter consists of waste products that have been discarded incorrectly, without consent, at an unsuitable location. Litter can also be used as a verb; to litter means to drop and leave objects, often man-made, such as aluminum cans, paper cups ...
ing, by issuing a fixed penalty notice, colloquially called an "on-the-spot fine", although legally they are not fines. They allow the recipient to avoid going to court by paying a penalty fixed by statute. If such a notice is ignored or disputed, a court summons will be issued as for any other offence.

Civil summons

A civil summons is most often accompanied by a complaint. Depending on the type of summons, there is often an option to endorse a summons so that the entity being served may be identified. In the court system in California, for civil unlimited cases in the superior court, a summons will often have these options to endorse: # as an individual; # as the person sued under the fictitious name of __________________; # on behalf of (usually for a company); or # by personal delivery on __________

Administrative summons

One example of an administrative summons is found in the tax law of the United States. The
Internal Revenue Code The Internal Revenue Code (IRC), formally the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, is the domestic portion of federal statutory tax law in the United States, published in various volumes of the United States Statutes at Large, and separately as Title 26 ...
authorizes the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to issue a summons for a taxpayer—or any person having custody of books of account relating to a business of a taxpayer—to appear before the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury or his delegate (generally, this means the IRS employee who issued the summons) at the time and place named in the summons. The person summoned may be required to produce books, papers, records, or other data, and to give testimony under oath before an IRS employee. The IRS is also empowered to issue the section 7602 summons for the purpose of "inquiring into any offense connected with the administration or enforcement of the internal revenue laws". The summons may be enforced by a court order, and the law provides a criminal penalty of up to one year in prison or a fine, or both, for failure to obey the summons, except that the person summoned may, to the extent applicable, assert a privilege against self incrimination or other evidentiary privileges, if applicable. In the U.S. immigration court system, a "Notice to Appear" is an administrative summons ordering a respondent to appear before an immigration court for removal proceedings.

Summonses by jurisdictions


In the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) the service of a court attendance notice can be issued in a number of ways, the most common of which is by the NSW Police Force when charging someone after an arrest is made, a bail court attendance notice (with bail conditions) or regular court attendance notice is issued. Other methods the police use include via a paper form called a field court attendance notice (field CAN) which is issued to the accused person on the spot after an offence has been detected. Or by way of a future court attendance notice (future CAN), which replaced the old court issued summons and is served in person by police or sometimes by mail. In all of these cases, the CAN is filed at the court after it has been served.

England and Wales

Historically, in old English law, a summons was called an ''auxilium curiae'', although this term is now obsolete. In England and Wales, the term writ of summons for the originating document in civil proceedings has been replaced with the term ''claim form'' by the Civil Procedure Rules 1999 (CPR). This is part of the reforms to simplify legal terminology. However, despite its name, the claim form does not present the details of the claim itself (in other words, it does not replace the complaint). The complaint is now known as the ''particulars of claim''. In criminal matters, either a requisition, summons or warrant is issued to initiate criminal proceedings.

United States

In most U.S. jurisdictions, the service of a summons is in most cases required for the court to have jurisdiction over the party who is being summoned.See, e.g., '' World-Wide Volkswagen Corp. v. Woodson'', . The process by which a summons is served is called
service of process Service of process is the procedure by which a party to a lawsuit gives an appropriate notice of initial legal action to another party (such as a defendant), court, or administrative body in an effort to exercise jurisdiction over that person ...
. The form and content of service in the federal courts is governed by Rule 4 of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (officially abbreviated Fed. R. Civ. P.; colloquially FRCP) govern civil procedure in United States district courts. The FRCP are promulgated by the United States Supreme Court pursuant to the Rules Enablin ...
, and the rules of many state courts are similar. The federal summons is usually issued by the clerk of the court. In many states, the summons may be issued by an attorney, but some states use filing as the means to commence an action and in those states, the attorney must first file the summons in duplicate before it becomes effective. One or more copies are stamped by the court clerk with the court seal and returned to the attorney, who then uses it to actually serve the defendants. Other jurisdictions may only require that the summons be filed after it is served on the defendants.
New York New York most commonly refers to: * New York City, the most populous city in the United States, located in the state of New York * New York (state), a state in the northeastern United States New York may also refer to: Film and television * ...
is distinguished by its permissive filing system, in which the summons or complaint need not be filed at all.

See also

* Subpoena :* '' subpoena ad testificandum'' :* '' subpoena duces tecum''


External links

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
* U
Civil Procedure Rules 1998 online
* * * Court orders Legal documents Legal terminology {{Include-USGov, agency=Government Publishing Office, policy=https://www.gpo.gov/fdsyspages/help/index.html#about_fdsys2.htm