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Legality of Summons Issued for Attendance During Investigation

This article examines the summoning procedures under various laws governing taxation and financial transactions in the country, highlighting their pivotal role in legal investigations. It discusses the authority of the officers designated under various laws to issue summonses, compelling individuals to provide evidence or documents crucial for inquiries or adjudication proceedings. Emphasizing the intersection with the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, particularly Order XVI Rule 19, the analysis elucidates on ensuring legal compliance in summoning witnesses. This exploration showcases the adaptability of legal frameworks to modern logistics, underlining the balance between law enforcement efficiency and procedural fairness.


‘Where boundaries fade and jurisdiction strays.’

In the intricate landscape of legal investigations, the effectiveness of the investigative process is heavily reliant on the diligence and legal rigour applied during interrogations and collection of statements, which are critical for transforming collected information into evidence admissible in court. At the heart of this process is the summoning of persons, whether they are suspects or witnesses, whose testimony or documents are crucial for unraveling the case complexities.

This article offers an in-depth exploration of the summoning procedures under various statutes which collectively contribute to the legal framework governing taxation and regulation of financial transactions in the country.  Acts such as the Customs Act, 1908, the Income-tax Act, 1961, the Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017, the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015, the Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act, 1988, the Prevention of Money-laundering Act, 2002, and the Companies Act, 2013 (collectively referred as ‘these Acts’), all incorporate sections that empower designated authorities with the ability to summon witnesses. Additionally, this article sheds light on the interplay between these acts and the procedural framework established by the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 (‘CPC’). This exploration particularly emphasizes Order XVI of CPC Rule 19 and its relevance to ensuring legal compliance in summoning witnesses.

Summons Under Various Acts

Although the above-mentioned Acts do not explicitly define the term 'summon', the concept within these Acts can be understood through its application.

The Oxford Dictionary provides a broader legal context, defining a ‘summons’ as ‘a document issued from a court of justice, calling upon the person to whom it is directed, to be present before a judge or court for a specific reason.’ 

In legal terms, a summon serves as a formal notification requiring the recipient to appear in a legal proceeding to provide evidence and/or produce documents.

The above-mentioned Acts grant officers under their purview the power to issue summons to witnesses. There are specific provisions under these Acts which bestow upon the designated officers, the authority to summon persons, obligating them to either give evidence or produce documents that are vital to the ongoing inquiry or adjudication proceedings.

It is important to emphasize that the status or position of the person being summoned is irrelevant in this context. What is crucial, however, is the due diligence exercised in ensuring that summonses are issued only to persons who possess firsthand knowledge relevant to the case. This requires careful consideration to avoid any breach of procedural safeguards. Such mindfulness in the summoning process under the Act highlights the necessity for precision and prudence in exercising these powers.

Procedure to be Followed

The power of summoning witnesses is a crucial aspect governed by the CPC, which extends its application to various statutes (as mentioned above) for specific purposes.

The procedural guidelines for summoning witnesses are delineated in s. 108 of the Customs Act, 1908; s. 131 of the Income-tax Act, 1961; s. 70 of the Central Goods and Services Tax Act, 2017; s. 8 of the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act, 2015; s. 19 of the Prohibition of Benami Property Transactions Act, 1988; s. 50 of the Prevention of Money-laundering Act, 2002; and s. 217 of the Companies Act, 2013.

The powers under the above-mentioned provisions are akin to those vested in a civil court under the CPC for matters including discovery and inspection, enforcing attendance, compelling the production of documents, and issuing commissions. This alignment with the CPC ensures a standardized and legally robust approach to summoning witnesses across diverse legal domains, maintaining consistency and procedural integrity.

In this regard, s. 30 of the CPC, which empowers the court to issue summonses for evidence or document production, is relevant here. Under the CPC, anyone summoned to give evidence is considered a witness. This establishes a foundational legal framework for summonses and witness attendance, with detailed regulations provided in O. XVI. These rules outline the issuance, content, service, and compliance procedures for summonses.

A key element in this context is r. 19 of O. XVI, which addresses the attendance of witnesses. According to r. 19, witnesses are not required to attend in person unless they reside within the local jurisdiction of the Court. The rule states:

'19. No witness to be ordered to attend in person unless resident within certain limits.— No one shall be ordered to attend in person to give evidence unless he resides—

(a) within the local limits of the Court’s ordinary jurisdiction, or

(b) without such limits but at a place less than one hundred or (where there is railway or steamer communication or other established public conveyance for five-sixths of the distance between the place where he resides and the place where the Court is situated) less than five hundred kilometres distance from the court-house:

[Provided that where transport by air is available between the two places mentioned in this rule and the witness is paid the fare by air, he may be ordered to attend in person.]'

[Emphasis supplied]

Thus, r. 19 of O. XVI stipulates that no person should be compelled to appear in person before the court to give evidence unless they reside within the local jurisdiction of that court. It further specifies that a person may be summoned to appear in person if the distance between their residence and the court is less than 500 km, provided there is adequate railway, steamer communication, or other established public conveyance. An important exception to this rule is the provision for air transport. If air travel is feasible between the witness's residence and the court, and the witness is compensated for the airfare, then the witness can be mandated to attend in person, irrespective of the distance exceeding 500 km.

This interpretation has been upheld by the courts, emphasizing that the provision for air transport in r. 19(b) of O. XVI extends the court’s jurisdiction. In instances where air connectivity exists, and the witness is afforded airfare, the distance becomes irrelevant. Consequently, the court is not obligated to issue a commission of a witness who can be summoned as per this rule, keeping in mind that the examination of a witness is at the discretion of the court[i]. This nuanced understanding of r. 19(b) is crucial, as it clarifies the court’s stance on summoning witnesses from distant locations, especially in an era where air travel is increasingly accessible and efficient.

Interplay with Summoning Procedure Under CrPC

When examining the summoning procedure under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) in tandem with the CPC, it becomes evident that while both legal frameworks entail summoning individuals for carrying out investigations, there are notable distinctions in their application and procedure. Under the CrPC, the process of summoning individuals primarily pertains to criminal investigations initiated upon the filing of a First Information Report (FIR) under s. 154 of the CrPC. Here, the police are empowered to gather evidence and interrogate individuals with relevant information concerning the alleged offence. S. 160 of the CrPC delineates the procedure for summoning individuals for investigation, conferring upon police officers the authority to compel attendance. However, this authority is circumscribed by jurisdictional limitations, as officers can only summon individuals within the confines of their own or adjacent police stations.

Consequently, when individuals domiciled beyond these territorial boundaries fail to comply with summonses, there is no non-compliance of summonses issued under s. 160 CrPC.[ii] Similar to the provision under CPC, the CrPC mandates the provision of reasonable expenses to summoned individuals, as per state regulations, when they are required to attend investigations conducted outside their residences. Thus, while the summoning procedures under the CrPC and CPC share foundational similarities in their objective of securing the attendance of individuals for legal proceedings, the nuances in their application underscore the distinct procedural frameworks governing criminal and civil jurisprudence.


Q1: What authority do the provisions under various statutes as discussed grant to the authorised officers?

A1: The above-mentioned provisions under various laws as discussed above, empower the authorised officers to issue summonses to persons compelling them to provide evidence or produce documents crucial for ongoing inquiries or adjudication proceedings.

Q2: How does the summoning process under the above-mentioned Acts relate to the CPC?

A2:  The summoning process under the above-mentioned Acts is closely intertwined with the procedural framework established by the CPC. The relationship is evident in r. 19 of O. XVI which sets forth guidelines regarding the physical attendance of witnesses in court. This rule clarifies that witnesses are generally not required to attend in person if they live outside the local jurisdiction of the court, with certain conditions pertaining to the distance between their residence and the court. It is noteworthy for addressing situations involving air travel, allowing the court to mandate personal attendance if air transport is available and the witness is reimbursed for airfare.

Q3: Can a person summoned be compelled to attend in person if residing more than 500 km away from the Court?

A3: Typically, persons residing more than 500 km away from the court are not obligated to attend in person, as per the stipulations of O. XVI, r. 19. However, there is an exception for situations where air transport is available between the witness’s location and the court. If air travel is feasible, and the witness is compensated for the airfare, the court has the discretion to order their attendance in person.

Q4: Can you provide an example of a situation where a person residing more than 500 km away might be summoned to attend in person?

A4: Certainly. An example would be a case where a key witness resides in a city 600 km away from the court where the case is being heard. If there is an available air route between the witness’s city and the city where the court is located, and the court deems the witness's testimony critical to the case, the witness can be summoned to attend in person. However, the court or the party issuing the summonses must cover the witness's airfare as a prerequisite.

Q5: What should a person do if summoned to travel more than 500 km but encounters difficulties?

A5: If a person is summoned to travel over 500 km and encounters impediments, it is advisable to promptly notify the issuing authority or the relevant legal authority about the challenges being faced. It is crucial to provide detailed information regarding the specific issues hindering compliance. The authorities may then consider alternative arrangements, such as remote testimony through video conferencing or rescheduling the appearance. The person’s willingness to cooperate and effectively communicate their difficulties is pivotal and will be taken into account in finding a viable solution.

Q6: Is it mandatory for a person to comply with the summonses issued under the above-mentioned Acts?

A6: Yes, it is mandatory to comply with the summonses issued under the above-mentioned Acts. Failure to comply can result in penal consequences. However, if there are genuine reasons preventing compliance, such as health issues or travel difficulties, these should be communicated to the issuing authority for consideration.

Q7. What are the legal consequences which can be faced by a person in case of non-attendance/non-compliance of summonses?

A7. Failure to comply with valid summonses issued under the above-mentioned Acts can result in legal consequences, including penalties and sanctions. It is essential for both authorities and individuals summoned to understand and adhere to the legal requirements and procedures related to these summonses to ensure their validity and compliance with the law.


In conclusion, these Acts play a pivotal role in the landscape of legal investigations, bridging the specialized requirements with the foundational principles of legal procedure as embodied in the CPC. The act of summoning, while complex, is carried out with careful consideration of logistical realities and strict adherence to legal standards. The integration of modern transportation, particularly air travel, into the summoning process, reflects the legal system’s capacity for adaptability, ensuring efficiency and fairness in legal proceedings.

This alignment of these Acts with procedural norms demonstrates a commitment to justice that is both rigorous in its demands and adaptable to the exigencies of geography and contemporary communication methods. The efficacy of this approach is essential not only for the adjudication of the matters under these Acts but also for maintaining the integrity of the justice system, guaranteeing that all involved parties are afforded a fair chance to present their case.

Therefore, the summoning procedure under these Acts exemplifies the law’s dynamic character, continually evolving to address the needs of an interconnected and mobile global society. It stands as a testament to the legal system’s ongoing effort to balance the pursuit of justice with the practicalities of modern life, ensuring that legal processes remain relevant, effective, and just in an ever-changing world.

End Notes

[i] Kishan Kriplani v. Seimens (I) Ltd.; 1988 SCC Online Bom 215

[ii]Krishan Bans Bhadur v. State of Himachal Pradesh, 1975 Cri LJ 620 (H.P.) 

Authored by Prashant Singh, Advocate at Metalegal Advocates. The views expressed are personal and do not constitute legal opinion.


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