Tag Archives: Court Summons

What Is A Court Summons?

Although a large percentage of us may not have received a court summons, we probably all still have a reasonable idea of what it is. In brief, it is the legal documentation issued by a court or separate government agency which notifies a defendant that they are due to appear in court on a certain date. But there are different kinds of summons and there is also more involved in the issuing and processing of the documents than you might suppose. In certain cases the defendant may not actually (say they might not have to appear)

Whether or not the defendant actually ends up appearing in court, once they receive the summons they are obliged to respond in some way. Before they can do this, however, it is very important that the paperwork is issued correctly in the first place or else the entire case could be void. This is why it is the job of a special legal representative called a ‘process server’ to verify that it has indeed been delivered to the correct person. It may sound strange that a case can be voided simply because the right protocol has not been followed in delivering the documents, but that is the way the legal system works.

 

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A court summons is not something to be massively upset.

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Ideally, the court summons will be delivered to the defendant involved in the case. To do this, the process server will need to ascertain their place of residence and deliver the documents to them in person so they can provide evidence that they are aware of the action being taken against them. However, if this is not possible then it can also be given to another member of their household or somebody at their place of work. In which case this person’s presence will be required in court as a witness.

There are two main varieties of summons: a citation is prepared and served on-the-spot by a law enforcement official at the scene of an offence. A typical example of this (and something we might all be familiar with) is for parking in a restricted zone. Although it is not delivered by a process server, this kind of summons still requires a response to avoid more serious action being taken.

The second, and more serious, variety is a civil summons. This refers to the written paperwork delivered personally to the defendant by a process server, as discussed above. It will usually be accompanied by a complaint (a list of the allegations against them) so everybody is aware of the facts of the case before responses are made. This kind of summons can be served to either an individual or an entire organisation. Once the paperwork is delivered it will need to be filed in a ‘return of service’ to provide evidence that the correct protocol has been followed.

With a civil summons, it is important that the documents are delivered to the right place as otherwise the entire case could be void. The envelope containing the documents should not give any indication that it contains information regarding a legal case. This is both to protect the privacy of the individual and to prevent them from refusing the documentation when it is presented to them. It is not, however, necessary for them to sign to show receipt of the paperwork. As long as the process servers themselves can verify that they have reached the correct person or address that is enough from a legal perspective.

 

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Make sure you know how to react.

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If the process server is unable to find an appropriate person to deliver the summons to, they will make several more attempts before trying an alternative method. They may, for example, issue service by publication where the notification will be placed in a local newspaper. If it has been discovered in the interim that the defendant has gone abroad for an extended period of time then an attempt may be made to discover their address, and process could be served by mail. However, neither of the above methods are ideal as they give no guarantee that the person in question will see them.

If the summons reaches the intended recipient successfully, they will usually have up to 30 days to consider and make their response. They may want to contact a legal representative to negotiate a settlement. Sometimes they will be given a court date, but in many cases things will not even have gone this far as yet. The outcome from the entire process, then, will either be the commencement of a court hearing or an agreed settlement out of court.

Summary: Before a defendant can appear in court they need to have first been served their summons in the correct manner. This article looks in more detail at what a summons actually is and how it works.

 

Image credits: Deapeajay and ellesmelle