Understanding Court Summons

A Court Summons is a legal document issued by a court to a person/legal entity (usually referred to as the defendant/respondent) in a legal process to respond and answer to charges or claims levied against him/her/it.

The Summons gives court the power to call for and order the recipient to act upon the order. On the other hand, it is legal notice to the recipient about a suit against him/her/it. Whilst this mandate is the court’s to draw a Court Summons, it is common practice for counsel to draft the document, attach it to the pleading and have court execute it.

In Uganda, advocates representing the plaintiff/complainant reduce the workload by drafting the Court Summons but do not sign them.

Drawing a Court Summons

• It must be prescribed by and provided for by the law and any other legal provision responsible for the area (jurisdiction) where it’s drawn and served;

• It must be drafted in a prescribed form under the laws governing its provision: dated, stating the time and place where the recipient must enter appearance, etc;

• It must be properly ‘served’ on or delivered to the recipient, i.e. defendant, respondent, etc. by a registered court process server; and,

• It is issued by the court having jurisdiction to execute it, usually one that ordinarily has the authority to hear the case.

Some of the contents include:

• The issuing authority and the legal provision within which the case is sued;

• The name of the Claimant;

• The name of the recipient;

• The nature of the suit/claim;

• The order to file a defence in the suit;

• The time frame within which to file the defence (usually 15 days for Kenya and Uganda); and,

• Caution against failure to file the defence. This is a stern warning to the recipient informing him/her/it that in case of failure to file a reply, the plaintiff/claimant will proceed with the suit and judgment be given by court in the recipient’s absence.

What should you do when summoned by Court?

Respond. Respond. Respond.

Any form of response is considered by court, but how you respond affects your case, especially on your character and liability in the matter.

Legally, filing a reply by way of written statement of defense in court is the most appropriate form of official reply to a Court Summons. You can settle the case amicably before it goes to trial; protest against the jurisdiction of court claiming it has no authority to try you or the matter; attend court; sue the person suing you (counter suit); acknowledge the claim/fault and correct the matter; deny the allegation; or refuse to respond and do nothing in that regard.

Unlike a subpoena, Court Summons is served on a party to a case and response is optional. It is like an invitation to appear in court but one with severe consequences if the recipient does not appear. Court has a duty to evaluate the evidence on record and draw to its own conclusions in the recipient’s absence. On such occasions, seldom does the defendant/respondent win the case. Upon judgment/ruling, it is the defendant/respondent who suffers the wrath of a judgment against his/her/it’s favour.

The legal process is tricky for a lay person unless with the help of a legal professional. Be wise; seek counsel and instruct a lawyer to help you out.

“If someone files a case against you that you believe to be foolish & lacking in merit, don’t get a mob. Get a lawyer. They know what to do,” David Mpanga, Lawyer.

Or don’t respond at all: at your own peril, of course.


This article appears in our newsletter, The Deuteronomy Volume 5, Issue 4,  of August 26th, 2016


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