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HMRC internal manual

Information Disclosure Guide

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HM Revenue & Customs
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Sharing information outside of HMRC: sharing information with courts, tribunals and HMRC appeals: witness summonses and subpoenas (witness citation In Scotland)

What is a witness summons?

A witness summons is a formal and legally binding order of the court to attend court and give evidence. In some instances the court will require you to bring certain documents with you. If this is the case the document will make it clear what documents are needed. A witness summons is legally binding on the person or persons named on the document and a failure to attend court when summonsed can be treated as ‘a contempt of court’ punishable by a fine or imprisonment.

What is a subpoena?

For all practical purposes, a subpoena is simply another term for a witness summons and as such you should act in the same way as noted above.

There are two types of subpoena - the ‘subpoena duces tecum’ which means that the court requires you to provide certain, specified documents, or a ‘subpoena ad testificandum’ which requires you to attend court to give evidence. From an HMRC point of view, they can be treated in much the same way as any other witness summons.

A failure to attend when subpoenaed can be treated as a contempt of court.

Section 9 Criminal Justice Act 1967

If you provide a witness statement under section 9 Criminal Justice Act (CJA) you may be required to attend court and give evidence. Further guidance on ‘section 9 CJA’ statements can be found in IDG40220.

How do I identify a witness summons or subpoena?

A witness summons (or subpoena) will be clearly marked as such and should be signed by an officer of the court and bear the court’s official stamp. The witness summons will include details of the time, date and place of the hearing. If documents or other records are required, this too will be specified on the summons. If the court’s instructions are unclear or confusing, you should seek clarification for the court that issued the order. In some cases you may be required to speak to either party to the proceedings. If you receive such a request you should contact Information Policy and Disclosure for advice (see IDG80100 for contact details).

On rare occasions HMRC may be asked to supply information that we do not wish to disclose. Although the scope to protect information from the court’s scrutiny is very limited, it may be possible to maintain the confidentiality of our records. If you have any concerns about the information required by court you should contact Information Policy and Disclosure (IDG80100) for further advice.

Orders from court which require documents or information rather than personal attendance are outlined at IDG40530.

Procedure you must take

Summonses and subpoenas must always be treated with the highest priority. It is a criminal offence to disobey a witness summons without good reason (‘contempt of court’). Treat orders as urgent and inform your manager that a witness summons has been received.

You must take responsibility at the earliest stage to ensure that the summons is dealt with, even if you are not the ‘specialist’ in the area. This may mean obtaining relevant papers and documents, finding the right people to deal with the summons and seeking advice from relevant parties where appropriate, to a tight deadline.

Devolved administrations

In Scotland, a witness summons or subpoena is known as a witness citation, and this guidance is applicable to them. If you receive a witness citation from a Scottish court please contact Solicitors office, Edinburgh (see IDG80100 for contact details).