Life can be unpredictable and challenging, and there may come a time when you end up unable to repay money you owe someone.  Ignoring the issue or failing to make arrangements can lead to legal action against you, which often involves receiving a summons. Being served with a summons can be a daunting experience, and while you may be tempted to scrunch the darn thing up and slam dunk it into the bin, it is important to understand the steps involved and take timely action to protect your rights.

“A summons is the first step in a legal claim initiated by a plaintiff against a defendant. Typically, although not necessarily, before a summons is issued, a letter of demand is sent, but if payment isn’t made, a summons follows,” explains Caitlin Moses, a candidate attorney at specialist, commercial law firm Gillan & Veldhuizen Inc..  By knowing the process, understanding the nature of the claims against you and seeking appropriate legal guidance, you can potentially defend yourself against the claims outlined in the summons.

Here’s a simple guide to help you navigate the process:

  1. Check the date: First things first, note the date you received the summons. You have 10 court days (excluding weekends and public holidays) to respond.
  2. Notice of intention to defend: File this document within 10 court days after being served. It tells the court you intend to contest the claims.
  3. Plea and default judgment: After filing the Notice of Intention to Defend, you have 20 court days to submit your plea – your formal statement of defence. If you don’t, the plaintiff can seek a default judgment. If you’re running late, a notice of bar gives you an extra five court days before default judgment is granted.
  4. Counterclaims: If you believe you have a claim against the plaintiff, you can file a counterclaim. Consult your lawyer to see if this is a good strategy.
  5. Registrar’s discretion: The registrar can refuse a default judgment, asking for more evidence or witness statements (in the form of affidavits). Always comply with the court’s requests.

Ignoring a summons isn’t an option. “If you ignore it, the plaintiff can proceed with further legal action, potentially resulting in a default judgment. Various enforcement actions can be taken against you to collect the awarded amount or have other court remedies imposed,” warns Moses.

It is in your best interest to respond promptly and appropriately to any legal documents served upon you. If you have received a summons, it is advisable to consult with an attorney who can provide you with guidance based on the specific details of your case.  “This will go a long way to ensuring a successful or better outcome,” advises Moses.