A writ of summons is a document issued by a court that orders a person to answer a legal complaint within a specified time. The document may also command a person to appear in court. A court typically issues this document when a plaintiff files a lawsuit. For simplicity, most jurisdictions just use the term "summons" for this document. In the United Kingdom (UK), a writ of summons is a document that orders an individual to take his seat in Parliament.
Ordinarily, the plaintiff’s lawyer prepares the writ and submits it to the court along with a complaint. A court clerk endorses the documents, which means that he date stamps them and places an official court seal on the summons, which authorizes the document for service. The clerk files the original complaint with the court and returns copies of the complaint and the summons to the plaintiff’s lawyer. Most court rules require the party filing a lawsuit to ensure service of the documents upon a defendant.
The writ of summons provides a defendant with notice of the lawsuit. It informs the defendant that he must file a response to the complaint within a specified time, which is usually 30 days. It also notifies the defendant that the court may enter a default judgment against him if he fails to respond within the time allotted. A default judgment means that the court enters a judgment in favor the plaintiff without conducting a hearing or trial.
Serving the writ and the complaint upon a defendant is called service of process. A plaintiff may not personally deliver the documents. Instead, he must hire a private process server or pay a fee to the sheriff’s office to deliver them. The person who serves the summons and the complaint signs an affidavit to verify that the documents were indeed delivered to the defendant. The process server or the plaintiff files the affidavit with the court.
To respond to a writ of summons, a defendant must file a written pleading. A pleading may be a motion or an answer to the complaint. A motion is a request asking the court take some type of pre-trial action. For example, a motion may ask the court to dismiss a complaint based on improper service or lack of jurisdiction. An answer responds to each of the claims raised in the complaint.
In the UK, the term is used for a document that calls certain individuals to take their seats in Parliament, the country's national legislature. These individuals often hold titles of nobility such as duke, earl, or baron. In some circumstances, this writ may operate to bestow a title on a person.