Witness summonses
Understanding the Law
November 1, 2019
Witness summonses

You could be summoned to a civil or a criminal court to give evidence in a matter that you have knowledge of. If you were present when the events occurred you would be served a summons. The police or process server, depending on the court, could do the service. It is the police who serve the summons for the Magistrate Court in criminal matters. (Note summons is singular, summonses is plural). It is the court’s bailiff who serves the summons for the Family Court. When you are served you cannot hesitate, you have to attend court and only the judge can relieve you of that obligation. For a summons under the Part 33 of the Civil Procedure Rules 2000 a party must obtain permission from the court to issue a witness summons. That party must do so within 21 days of the hearing and the witness must be served 14 days before the trial.

You become a witness if you were present and have personal knowledge of the events. Many people do not like to be witnesses in the court because they do not want to go to court. This is considered a heavy burden for some people, because they are unfamiliar with the proceedings of the court, or consider it a time consuming exercise. It is not unusual for attendance in court to be lengthy. However, it is not always the same, it could be for a few hours or for a long time, depending on the complexity of the issues. If you are the main witness, for instance, in a criminal matter in the High Court you might have to expect a lengthy proceeding. But do not be dismayed because if you were the victim of a crime you would appreciate someone giving evidence on your behalf. So try to do what you should do willingly. Your employer will not object to your attendance because he has an obligation to give you some time off. You would hear the word eyewitness because you were at the crime scene. You would be required to give evidence before the hearing (which would be written down as a deposition) and to give oral testimony in court. If you do not attend court for the trial or hearing the evidence taken cannot be used because you were not present to be cross-examined.

Witness summonses
under Part 33.

So you have been served a witness summons to attend the High Court. What is this? It is a document issued by the court requiring you to attend court for a hearing to give evidence or produce a document in a civil matter. Obviously, if your name does not match the name on the summons, you can inform the person who served as it might be simply a case of mistaken identity. A witness summons served under the Civil Procedure Rules is binding on the witness until the conclusion of the hearing. Under this rule the party calling the witness must offer to compensate the witness. It must be a reasonable sum. It must be sufficient to cover his expenses for meals and travelling to and from court.

The witness summons as provided for in Form 12, must state the name of the judge before whom the witness is to appear and the date on which he must appear. The party must inform the witness that he must bring relevant document where it is necessary. A separate summons is served on each witness. The court could, however, set it aside.