This article is written by Monesh Mehndiratta, a law student at Graphic Era Hill University, Dehradun. Order 5 of the Code of the Civil Procedure deals with summons that has to be issued within seven days of the institution of a plaint or suit. This article explains the essentials, objects, and mode of service of summons. It further provides various rules of summons. 

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.


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Whenever we want to call someone to be present somewhere, we either call them in person or through another person, or we connect with them over a phone call. This is what every person does. But have you ever wondered, what a court does when it has to call a person in the court or make his/her presence. Obviously, it cannot make a phone call directly or go to that person. Then how does a person get to know that he has to be present in court on a so-and-so date? It’s definitely a good question to think about, isn’t it?

Wait, you need not think much. The answer lies in the article itself. By the end of this article, you will be able to clear all your doubts. Well, whenever a court has to make sure of the presence of a witness or any other person involved in any case in any manner, it sends an official notice to that particular person. This official notice or document directs a person to be present in the court on a particular day before a judge is called a summon. The court sends this through a court officer or any other person entitled by the court to do so. 

Now, you may be wondering what is mentioned in that document. What are the requirements for a summons? What will happen if someone rejects or does not appear after a summons is served? Do not worry. All of these questions will be answered one by one in this article. The Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, gives a proper procedure related to summons. This article explains the meaning, objective, essentials, and modes of service of summons. It further discusses the scenario when a person refuses or objects to the summons served to him.

Meaning, object and essentials of summons

If we try to understand the legal recourse in the case of a civil suit, then the first step leading to a civil suit is a dispute over a particular matter or property. This gives rise to a cause of action followed by identification of the parties, i.e., plaintiff and defendant. This is followed by the identification of the subject matter over which the dispute has arisen. The jurisdiction of the court is determined along with the value of the suit/plaint. After considering the jurisdiction and valuation of plaint, a plaintiff files a suit or plaint in a civil court. The most important step comes after the institution of a suit, which is the issuance of summons within seven days of the institution of the plaint, after which a defendant is under an obligation to submit a written statement within 30 days. This is followed by further proceedings and arguments. 

The importance of summons lies in the fact that when a plaintiff files a suit, the defendant must be informed about the suit that has been filed against him so that he can be heard and the procedure of fair trial is followed. The document which is sent by the court to the defendant to inform him about the suit filed against him is known as a summon. 

The word ‘summon’ has not been defined anywhere in the code. The definition of summons as given by the Oxford dictionary states that, “a document which is issued from the court of justice and calls upon a person to whom it is directed, to be present before a judge or court for a specific reason is called a summon.” Issue and service of summons are given under Order 5 of the Code.

Objective of summons

The following are the objectives of summons:

  • It is important to inform a person about any legal action that has been taken against them. 
  • It gives an opportunity to the defendant to present his case and side of the story. 
  • The basis of summons lies in the maxim “Audi Alteram Partem”, which means to hear both sides. 
  • It further helps in following the principles of natural justice and ensures fair proceedings and trial. 
  • It helps in ensuring the presence of either a witness or accused or any other person who is involved directly or indirectly in a suit before the court. 
  • To produce the necessary documents. 

Essentials of summons 

The essentials of a summon are given under Order 5, Rules 1 and 2 of the code. These are:

  • Every summon must be signed by the judge or any other officer whom he appoints to do so on his behalf. 
  • It must be sealed properly. 
  • The court will not issue any summons to the defendant if he has appeared before the court at the time of the institution of the plaint. 
  • After summons are issued, the defendant is required to file written statements within 30 days. If he fails to do so, he has to provide reasons, and if the court is satisfied, it can extend the time period to file written statements to not more than 90 days. 
  • Another essential element of summons is that every summon must be accompanied by a copy of the plaint. 
  • The format of a summons must be according to the prescribed form given in Appendix B of the First Schedule under the code.  

Contents of summons 

Rule 5 to Rule 8 of Order 5 under the code gives the content of summons. A summon must contain:

  • Information, whether it is issued for settlement of issues or final disposal of the suit. According to Rule 5, the court of small causes can only issue a summons for the final disposal of a suit and nothing else. 
  • It must contain the date and day fixed for the appearance of the defendant, considering the factors like the residence of the defendant, time, etc., so that he can get a reasonable time and opportunity to appear before the court. 
  • It also contains the list of necessary documents that a defendant is required to produce in court. 
  • If the summons is issued for final disposal, it must direct the defendant to produce witnesses on his behalf to support his side. 

Summons to defendants 

According to Rule 1 of the Order, whenever a lawsuit is instituted by a plaintiff, the defendant has to file a written statement within 30 days of the issuance of the summons to him. If he fails to do so and furnishes an appropriate reason, the court, after consideration, may extend the time up to 90 days. However, the court will not issue any summons if the defendant was present at the time of the institution of the plaint and has admitted the claim of the plaintiff. Section 27 of the Code further provides that a summons must be issued to the defendant when the suit is instituted to appear before the court and answer the plaint in the form of written statements. 

Section 28 mentions the condition where the summons issued to a defendant has to be sent to a different state or jurisdiction where he resides. In such a situation, the court will send the summons to the court having jurisdiction in that particular area, and then the said court will perform duties as if the summons had been issued by it. It will further return the record of its proceedings to the court that originally issued the summons. If there is any difference in language between the summons issued and the records, the records will be translated into Hindi or English and then sent along with the summons. 

Appearance of defendant

According to Rule 3, if summons has been issued to the defendant, he may appear before the court in the following ways:

  • He may appear himself in person or, 
  • Through his pleader, who will answer all the questions on his behalf or, 
  • by a pleader along with another person to answer all the questions. 

The court, however, has the power to call defendants at any time to appear personally before the court if there are reasons to do so. 

Exemption from appearance 

The code provides certain provisions that mention the people who are exempted from appearance in the court on the issuance of a summons and the necessary conditions. These are:

  • Section 132 provides that any woman who cannot be compelled to appear in public due to the customs and other manners followed, will not be asked to appear before the court. This does not mean that she will not be arrested if required in civil proceedings. This will only happen if the code provides for any such exemption provision. 
  • Section 133 further gives the list of particular people who are exempted from appearing before the court personally. This includes:
    • The President of India
    • Vice-President 
    • Speaker of house
    • Union Ministers
    • Supreme Court judges
    • Governors of states and union territories
    • Speakers of state legislative assemblies
    • Chairman of the state legislative council
    • States’ Ministers
    • High Court judges
    • Any other person on whom Section 87B is applicable. 
  • According to Rule 4 of Order 5, a person will be exempt from appearing before the court if:
    • He does not reside within the local limits of the court’s jurisdiction or
    • He lives in a place that is more than 50 miles or 200 miles away from the court. 

Mode of service of summons

This is one of the most fundamental and important rules of law that states that a party must be given a fair chance to represent himself, and this is only possible if he has been served with fair and reasonable notice of legal proceedings stating the legal action taken against him. This will also give him the opportunity to defend himself and present his case. 

One of the major causes of delay in justice or pendency in cases is the service of summons. The defendants or people to whom the summons are issued may avoid it or ignore it, which results in a delay in proceedings, leading to a delay in justice. The Law Commission and the makers of the law felt a need to make certain amendments with respect to the service of summons and their modes of service. The code gives several modes of service of summons, which are discussed below in detail. 

Personal or direct service 

This mode of service of summons is simple. In this mode, a copy of the summons is issued to the concerned person or his agent or any other person on his behalf, and the person receiving the summons must acknowledge the same. It is the duty of the officer serving summons to ensure and make an endorsement with regard to the summons served that states the time and manner of service, the name and address of the person receiving the summons, and witness to the delivery of the summons. 

Rules 10 to 16 and Rule 18 of the order deal with personal or direct service. While serving summons through this mode, the following principles must be taken into consideration:

  • The service officer must try to serve the summons to the defendant or his agent. 
  • If the defendant is not present at his place of residence and there is no agent, then it must be served on any adult male or female member of the family living with him on his behalf.
  • If a suit is related to the business or work of a person who does not reside within the territorial jurisdiction of the court, then it may be served to the manager or agent of that business or work.
  • In the case of a suit on immovable property, if the defendant is not found, then the summons may be served on any person or agent who is in charge of such property. 
  • If a suit involves two or more defendants, then the summons must be issued to each of them.  

Service by the court 

Rule 9 of the Order deals with the service of summons by court. It provides that if a defendant resides within the jurisdiction of the court, then the summons must be served to him by the court officer. It can also be served by post, fax, message, email service, approved courier service, etc., but if the defendant does not live within the jurisdiction, then it must be served by the officer of the court within whose jurisdiction he resides. 

In the case, summons are served by Registered post acknowledgment due (RPAD), the court will assume the valid service of summons is complete even if there is no acknowledgement slip. If a person refuses to accept it, the court may treat it as a valid service. The Supreme Court, in the case of Salem Advocate Bar Association v. Union of India (2005), directed the high courts to make appropriate rules or guidelines to ensure that the provisions of summons are implemented properly without any abuse of power or process of law. 

Service by plaintiff

According to Rule 9A of the Order, the court may permit the plaintiff, on his application, to serve summons to the defendants. He has to deliver the copy of the summons which is sealed and signed by the judge or any other officer appointed by the judge to do so, and also make sure that the defendant summons acknowledges the service. If the defendant refuses to acknowledge the service or if it cannot be served personally, the court will re-issue the summons and serve it to the defendant. 

Substituted service 

Substituted service means a mode of service of summons that is adopted in place of ordinary service of summons. There are two modes of substituted service as given under Rules 17, 19 and 20 of the Order. These are:

  • If the defendant or his agent refuses to acknowledge or sign the receipt of the summons, or if the officer serving the summons reasonably believes that the defendant is not present at his residence and will not be found within a reasonable time, and moreover if there is no agent to receive summons on his behalf, he may affix the copy of the summons on the door or any conspicuous part of his house. 
    • In this case, the serving officer has to make a report stating the reasons for affixing the summons, the circumstances, the name and address of the person who helped him and the witnesses to affixing the summons.  
    • The court can declare that the summons has been issued if it is satisfied with the report of the officer. 
  • If the defendant is deliberately avoiding service and the court has a reason to believe so, it may affix the summons in some conspicuous place in the court and house of the defendant where he used to reside, carry on business or work for somebody.  

In the case of Yalllawwa v. Shantavva (1997), the Supreme Court held that this mode of service of summons is not an ordinary mode and must not be used normally. It must only be used in exceptional cases and treated as the last option.  

According to Rule 20, if a court orders to advertise the summons in the newspaper, then it must be done in a local newspaper where the defendant lived, had a business, or worked. This service is an effective option to serve summons even if the defendant is not reading the newspaper (Sunil Poddar v. Union Bank of India, 2008).

Before issuing the summons through this mode of service, the court must give the defendant a reasonable time to appear before the court. In another case, State of Jammu and Kashmir v. Haji Wali Mohammad (1972), the Supreme Court held that if a summon does not fulfil the requirements of Rule 19 of Order 5 under the Code, then such service of summons is not in accordance with the law.  

Service by post 

The Code earlier provided that the summons could be served through the post as well and was given under Rule 20A of the Order, but this provision has been repealed by the Amendment Act of 1976. 

Service of summons in special cases 

Rules 21–30 provide the mode of service of summons in special cases. 

  • If the defendant resides in another state or outside the jurisdiction of the court issuing the summons, the court may send the summons to another court in whose jurisdiction the defendant resides to serve it on him. 
  • According to Section 29 of the code, if any foreign summon has to be served, then it must be sent to the court in the territories where the code applies, and they will further serve the summons as if it had been issued by them. 
  • If the summons has to be served in presidency towns like Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay, then it may be sent to the Small Causes Court of that particular jurisdiction. 
  • If the defendant does not live in India and has no agent then according to Rule 25, the court can serve the summons by way of post, fax, email or any other appropriate means. The other way of serving the summons to such sovereign country where the defendant resides is either by a political agent or through the court of that country, which has powers and authority to serve the summons as given under Rule 26 of the order. 
  • If the defendant is a public officer, a railway officer, or a servant of the local authority, then the summons can be served through the head of their departments. 
  • If the defendant is a soldier, airman, or sailor, then the summons can be sent through their commanding officer.
  • If the defendant is a convicted prisoner, then the summons can be served through the officer in charge of the prison. 
  • In case, the defendant is a company or a corporation, the summons may be served to the secretary, director, or principal officer of the company or through post to the address where such company carries on its business or at its registered office.  
  • If the defendants are partners in a firm, then it must be served to any one of the partners, but if the partnership has dissolved before the suit has been instituted, then every partner must be served the summons. 
  • The court issuing the summons also has the power to substitute it with a letter of request, which will contain the same contents and information as the summons. This will be done for any person depending upon the position or office held by such a person. 

Refusal and objections to summons 

There are instances where a defendant refuses to accept the summons or accepts it but refuses to sign the acknowledgment or objects to the summons being issued. This leads to a delay in the proceedings of the suit. To deal with such situations, the code has provided certain safeguards.  

Refusal of summons 

According to Rule 9 of the Order, if the defendant refuses to accept the summons, it is deemed that the summons has been served on him. Similarly, when he or his agent refuses to sign the acknowledgement, the court will assume that he has refused to take delivery of the summons and treat such summons as duly served.  This was also mentioned in the case of Puwada Venkateswara v. Chidamana Venkata (1976)

Objection to service of summons 

In the case of Bheru lal v. Shanti lal (1984), the court held that if there are any objections to the summons served, they must be raised as soon as possible and at the earliest. If it is not done at that stage, then the court assumes that the defendant has waived off this opportunity. 


Order 5 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 specifically deals with the issue and service of summons to the defendant. It provides various rules related to the issuance of summons and their modes of service. All of these have been discussed in detail in the article. It also provides the scenario as to what will happen if a person refuses the summons. The defendant has also been given the opportunity to raise the objections to the summons if any at the earliest or else it will be waived. But there are many instances where the defendants tend to avoid or ignore the summons. This further results in delays in court proceedings and the pendency of suit. The law makers and the courts must look into this issue in order to solve the problem of the pendency of cases in our country. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between Order 5 and Order 16 of the code?

Order 5 of the Code particularly deals with the issuance of summons to defendants, while Order 16 deals with summons to witnesses. 

Who is an agent or pleader in a civil suit?

An agent is a person who either expressly or impliedly acts on behalf of another person called a principal. In a civil suit, he is allowed to speak on behalf of another person for whom he is the agent. While the word ‘pleader’ has been defined under clause 15 of Section 2 of the code. He is the person who pleads or appears in court on behalf of his client and includes a vakil, an advocate, and an attorney of the High Court. He acts as counsel for his client and also advises him to make the right decisions. 

Rule 4 of the order provides the procedure for the appointment of a pleader in a civil suit. It prescribes that a pleader can be appointed by a document in writing, which is known as a vakalatnama or vakalat patra. This document is signed by the party for whom he is appointed or by his recognised agent under the code or by any other person who has been authorised by him to do so.

Order 3 of the code deals with agents and pleaders. The following persons are considered as agents under the code:

  • A person with power of attorney, 
  • A person who carries trade or business for the parties or on their behalf, 
  • A person appointed by the government to either prosecute or defend on behalf of foreign rulers, 
  • A person authorised to act on behalf of the government. 

How does a defendant appear before the court?

He may appear before the court in the following ways:

  • He may appear himself in person or, 
  • Through his pleader who will answer all the questions on his behalf or, 
  • By a pleader along with another person to answer all the questions. 

What is the penalty if a person fails to comply with the summons?

The court under Section 32 of the code can impose a penalty on the person who was served the summons but failed to comply with it. The court may:

  • Issue a warrant of arrest against such person,
  • It may attach or sell his property, 
  • Impose fine, 
  • Order him to furnish security for default. 


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