Disclosure of information: orders from court - witness summonses and subpoenas (witness citations in Scotland)
Officers of HM Revenue & Customs should only disclose information to a civil court or tribunal when issued with an order, subpoena or witness summons which is binding on HM Revenue & Customs (NMWM16320). Other requests for information are not binding (NMWM16340).
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 that you bring with you certain documents. If this is the case the court will make it clear what documents are required. 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.
The witness summons 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.
What is a subpoena?
A subpoena is a form of witness summons and as such is a formal instruction requiring an individual to attend court and bring certain documents to the court to give evidence. A subpoena usually requires the attendance of a specifically named individual. A failure to attend when subpoenaed can be treated as a ‘contempt of court’.
Subpoenas are always clearly marked as either a ‘subpoena duces tecum’ or a ‘subpoena ad testificandum’. The former means that the court requires you to provide certain, specified documents. The latter means that the court requires you to attend court to give evidence. From an HM Revenue & Customs (NMWM02030)point of view, they can be treated in much the same way as any other witness summons.
Procedures to 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’).
You should first inform your People Leader / manager that a witness summons has been received and continue action as described in the Information Disclosure Guide (IDG40510).
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 help you deal with the summons and seeking advice from relevant parties where appropriate, to a tight deadline.
In Scotland, a witness summons or subpoena is known as a witness citation. If you receive a witness citation from a Scottish court or a court in Northern Ireland please contact the NMW Technical Team.