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Serving the summons

1.  Unless the court specifically agrees to do so, you should draft the summons. As it should repeat the details contained in the information, you should follow the guidance set out in Drafting Informations when preparing the summons.

2. Subject to any particular requirements of the court, you should send three copies of each summons to the court with the Information(s). Unless the court has agreed to serve the summons, the original and copy summons will be returned to you to serve, having been signed by a justice of the peace or the Justices’ Clerk, and showing the date of the first hearing (known as the “return date”).

3. You will normally serve the original summons on the defendant, which requires him/her to attend court on the given date and time. You should then return a copy of the original summons to the court with a certificate of service 1 (see below).

4. When received from the court, the summons should be served as soon as possible, and in any case must be served a reasonable time before the first hearing. 2 Magistrates have a judicial discretion to decline to proceed when service of a summons is delayed for so long as to be unconscionable, or where the delay has resulted in substantial prejudice to the accused 3.

5. A summons may be served on an individual or a corporation.

6. An individual defendant may be served with a summons4 by:

7. A corporate defendant may be served with a summons9 by:

Proof of service

8. Service is normally proved by a certificate of service13, which explains how and when the summons was served. The person who posts the summons, hands it over or leaves it at the appropriate address must complete the certificate of service. You should then return a copy of the original summons to the court with the certificate of service either endorsed on the back or attached. If service needs to be proved, that person will have to produce a statement and, if necessary, give evidence. It is therefore essential to keep a copy of the endorsed summons on file, with a record of when and how the endorsed copy was returned to the court.

Date of service

9. A summons served on either an individual or corporation by electronic means:

  1. is deemed serviced on the day on which it is sent under Rule 4.6(2)(a), if that day is a business day and if it is sent by no later than 2:30pm that day
  2. on the day on which notice of its deposit is given under Rule 4.6(20(b), if that day is a business day and if that notice is given by no later than 2:30pm that, or
  3. otherwise, on the next business day after it was sent or such notice was given and in any case, on the day on which the addressee responds to it, if that is earlier14.

10.  A summons served on an individual by handing it to him/her, and on a corporation by handing it to a person holding a senior position, is served on the day it is handed over15.

11. A summons sent by first class post (or equivalent) is served on the second business day after the day on which it was posted or despatched, unless it is shown otherwise16.

12. Where a summons is left at an address, it is deemed to have been served on the next business day after the day on which it was left17.

Covering letter

13. The summons should be served with a covering letter, dealing with mode of trial, plea and the right to Initial details of the prosecution case. You should serve the Friskies schedule at the same time (see Factors relevant to sentencing). If service is proved, a court may proceed in the absence of the defendant18, although the courts’ power to do so is severely restricted. The overriding consideration is whether it is fair and just to proceed in the absence of the defendant19.

Defendant outside England or Wales

14. A summons requiring any person charged with an offence to appear before a court in England or Wales may be served in Scotland or Northern Ireland in the ways set out above20. Where a corporate defendant is registered in Scotland or Northern Ireland and you wish to serve the summons by sending it to, or by leaving it at, the company’s principal place of business in England and Wales, you should also send a copy of the summons to the company’s registered office21.

15. Sections 3 and 4 of the Crime (International Co-operation) Act 2003 provide that a summons requiring a person charged with an offence to appear before a court in the United Kingdom to answer a charge, or a person to attend to give evidence as a witness, can be served outside the United Kingdom, either by post (s.3) or, if otherwise than by post, in accordance with arrangements made by the Secretary of State (s.4).

16. You should contact Legal Adviser's Office (LAO) in all cases where you propose to serve a summons on a person outside of the UK.  LAO will contact the UK Central Authority as necessary.

17. For further guidance on service of proceedings outside the UK, see Prosecution of foreign defendants.


  1. Rule 4.12 Criminal Procedure Rules (CPR) 2015.
  2. R v North, ex parte Oakey [1927] 1 KB 491.
  3. R v Watford Justices, ex parte Outrim [1982] LS Gaz R 920: summons served 22 months after issue.
  4. Rule 4.2 CPR 2015.
  5. Rule 4.6(1)(a) (i) & (ii) CPR 2015.
  6. Rule 4.3(1)(a) CPR 2015.
  7. Rule 4.4(1) and (2)(a) CPR 2015.
  8. Rule 4.4(1) and (2)(a) CPR 2015.
  9. Rule 4.2 CPR 2014.
  10. Rule 4.6(1)(a) CPR 2015.
  11. Rule 4.3(1)(b) CPR 2014.
  12. Rule 4.4(1) and (2)(b) CPR 2014. A company’s principal office, for example, will be its registered office.
  13. Rule 4.12 CPR 2015.
  14. Part 4.11.2 CPR 2015.
  15. Rule 4.11(1) CPR 2015.
  16. Rule 4.11(2)(b) CPR 2014.
  17. Rule 4.11(2)(a) CPR 2014.
  18. Magistrates Courts Act 1980, s.11.
  19. See Article 6(1) ECHR and R v Hayward, R v Jones and R v Purvis [2001] EWCA Crim 168; [2001] QB 862.
  20. Criminal Law Act 1977, s.39 and Part 4 CPR 2014.
  21. Section 1139(4) Companies Act 2006.
Updated 2016-03-02