Difference Between Summon Cases and Warrant Cases

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The legal system classifies criminal cases into various categories based on the nature of the offence and the procedures involved. Two primary categories are summon cases and warrant cases.

These terms often crop up in discussions of criminal law and understanding the key differences between summon cases and warrant cases is crucial for anyone navigating the legal landscape. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss the difference between summon case and warrant case.

Meaning of Summons Case

A summons is a document issued by a court that calls upon a person to come before a judge and show a certain document.

According to Section 61 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr. PC), a valid summons, issued by a judge, should have two identical copies. Both copies must be signed by the Judge’s President and bear the court’s seal. If a summons lacks these elements, it’s considered invalid and the person it’s meant for can refuse to accept it. The summons should clearly state the court’s name, the location, date and time when the summoned person needs to appear.

Trial of Summon Case

Section 251 of the law requires the court to explain the case details to the accused and record their plea. This was confirmed in the State of Gujarat v. Lalit Mohan case. Although this section doesn’t demand the framing of charges, it does require informing the accused when they appear in court. However, in the Manbodh Biswal v. Samaru Pradhan case, the court explained that if not following this provision doesn’t harm the accused, it won’t invalidate the trial.

This section instructs the magistrate to ask the accused if they plead guilty or if they have a defence. If the accused pleads guilty, Section 252 is relevant, which leads to their conviction after recording the plea and examining both prosecution and defence witnesses. In the Thangjam v. Irabot Singh case, it was clarified that a joint statement by all accused persons can’t be treated as a guilty plea.

Now, if the accused pleads ‘not guilty,’ Section 254 comes into play. If the accused hasn’t been convicted under Section 252 or 253, the magistrate must hear the prosecution and their witnesses. The accused can’t be acquitted without examining the prosecution’s witnesses because the magistrate is obligated to examine all witnesses presented by both sides. Failure to do so would make the criminal trial incorrect under Section 465. Upon request by either party, the magistrate should summon witnesses and prepare a record of the evidence under Section 274 of the law.

What are Warrants Cases?

A warrant is an official order that directs a specific person to apprehend a suspect and bring them to court for legal proceedings. This order can only be executed if there are valid reasons and it’s issued by a Magistrate. The warrant must have the court’s official seal and be signed by a presiding court officer. It remains valid until the same court that issued it cancels it.

The court can include in the warrant that a person can avoid arrest by paying a certain amount as a guarantee to appear in court. If necessary, someone who is not a police officer can carry out the immediate arrest. A Magistrate has the authority to execute a warrant on anyone entering their jurisdiction and the person the warrant is issued for can be found anywhere within that jurisdiction.

When a person is arrested, they should be informed of the reason for their arrest and if necessary, the warrant can be shown to them.

In some cases, warrant cases can be given to a police officer who operates outside the jurisdiction of the Judicial Magistrate, but this requires approval from either the Executive Magistrate or the police officer in charge of the police station.

Trial of Warrant Cases

Case Initiated on a Police Report

Section 238 of the law states that when a warrant case is initiated based on a police report and the accused is brought before the magistrate, the magistrate must follow the rules set out in Section 207 of the law. Section 239 discusses when an accused person can be discharged. It states that if the magistrate, after examining the police report and the related documents provided under Section 173 and considering arguments from both sides, finds that the charges against the accused are baseless, then the accused may be discharged. In the case of Century Spinning and Manufacturing Co. Ltd v. State of Maharashtra, the court emphasised that this provision must be read in conjunction with Section 240. The court has a duty to carefully consider and frame charges.

Section 240 deals with the formal framing of charges. If the magistrate believes that there are sufficient grounds to believe the accused committed the offence, they must formally frame charges in writing. It’s important to note that Section 240 allows the magistrate not only to consider the police report and associated documents under Section 173 but also to question the accused if they choose to do so.

Similar to Section 252 for summon cases, Section 241 applies to warrant cases where the accused pleads guilty. Section 242 outlines the procedure when the accused pleads ‘not guilty.’ In accordance with this provision, the magistrate sets a date for the examination of witnesses from both sides. Section 242 primarily deals with the prosecution’s evidence, while the procedure for presenting the defence’s evidence is explained under Section 243 of the law.

Cases Initiated Otherwise Than on Police Reports

Sections 244 to 247 in Chapter XIX specifically address the procedure for warrant cases initiated other than on a police report. Section 244 outlines the magistrate’s duty to ask the prosecution to produce witnesses to be examined before closing the evidence and framing the charge. It’s worth noting that the magistrate is not obligated to summon witnesses on their own; this responsibility lies with the prosecution.

Section 245 explains when the accused may be discharged. The court clarified in the case of Muhammad v. Balkrishna that Section 245 does not give the magistrate arbitrary power to discharge; there must be substantial reasons or evidence showing that no offence has been committed. If all the evidence presented by the prosecution within four years of the case’s initiation doesn’t provide reasonable grounds for discharging the accused, the magistrate can, at their discretion, acquit the accused. Conversely, if the magistrate believes there are reasonable grounds to believe the accused committed the offence after considering the evidence, Section 246 comes into play, which outlines the procedure when the accused is not discharged.

Section 247 deals with the evidence for the defence, which occurs after the charges have been framed. The accused is given the opportunity to cross-examine the prosecution’s witnesses. Finally, like any other trial, a warrant trial concludes with either the acquittal or conviction of the accused, as per Section 248 of the law.

The Difference Between Summon Cases and Warrant Cases

Nature of Offence

The primary and most significant difference between summon cases and warrant cases lies in the nature of the offence. Summon cases are generally reserved for minor or petty offences, such as traffic violations, minor breaches of the law or small-scale disputes.

Warrant cases, on the other hand, encompass more serious offences, including felonies and crimes that carry substantial penalties, such as murder, robbery and sexual assault.

Initiation of Proceedings

In summon cases, legal proceedings are initiated by the filing of a complaint by the aggrieved party or a law enforcement officer. The court then issues a summons to the accused, compelling them to appear in court on a specified date.

In warrant cases, the proceedings often commence with the filing of a First Information Report (FIR) by the police or a complaint by the victim. The court then issues an arrest warrant, authorising the police to apprehend the accused.

Court’s Involvement

Summon cases typically require less direct involvement of the court, as the accused is expected to voluntarily appear before the court in response to the summons.

In warrant cases, the court plays a more active role in overseeing the arrest and subsequent legal proceedings. This increased court involvement is due to the gravity of the offences involved.

Bail Provisions

In summon cases, the accused often has the opportunity to seek bail easily. Since summon cases involve less severe offences, the court may grant bail to the accused without stringent conditions.

Warrant cases, being more serious, may involve stricter bail conditions. Courts may be more cautious when granting bail to accused individuals facing warrant cases, especially if they are charged with heinous crimes.

Trial Procedure

Summon cases generally follow a simpler and more expedited trial procedure. The focus is on resolving the matter efficiently and swiftly.

Warrant cases often entail a more elaborate trial process, including the examination of witnesses, cross-examinations and the presentation of substantial evidence. These cases are more likely to proceed to a full-fledged trial.

Legal Representation

While both summon cases and warrant cases allow for legal representation, the significance of legal counsel may be greater in warrant cases, given the complexity and severity of the charges involved.


The penalties imposed in summon cases are typically less severe, involving fines, warnings or limited imprisonment.

Warrant cases, due to the gravity of the offences, can result in substantial prison sentences, including life imprisonment or even the death penalty in some jurisdictions.

Appeal Process

The appeal process may also differ between summon cases and warrant cases. In warrant cases, the appeal process may be more protracted and involve higher courts due to the seriousness of the charges.

In summon cases, the appeal process may be relatively straightforward and handled at lower judicial levels.


Examples of summon cases include minor traffic violations, public nuisances and petty thefts.

Examples of warrant cases encompass offences like murder, rape, drug trafficking and serious financial fraud.

Here is a table highlighting the key differences between summon vs warrant cases:

PurposeTo compel a person to appear in court or before a government agency for a specific reason, often in civil cases.To authorise law enforcement to search a specific location or seize specific items, primarily in criminal cases.
Consequences of Non-ComplianceMay result in a contempt of court charge.May result in a search or arrest by law enforcement.
Common UsageCivil cases, hearings, trials, depositions and administrative proceedings.Criminal cases, evidence collection and property seizure related to crimes.
RecipientsIndividuals or organisations.Individuals or organisations.
Issuance ProcessCan be issued without a prior court hearing, with the court or government agency determining its validity.Requires a court hearing or probable cause showing before issuance and must be executed by law enforcement.
Issuing AuthoritiesAdministrative agencies (e.g., tax and regulatory agencies) and courts.Judicial officers (e.g., judges or magistrates).


The difference between summon case and warrant case lies primarily in the nature of the offence, initiation of proceedings, court involvement, bail provisions, trial procedures, legal representation, penalties and appeal processes.

Recognising these distinctions is vital for legal practitioners, law enforcement and individuals facing criminal charges, as it informs legal strategies, resource allocation and access to justice. Understanding the difference between summon cases and warrant cases is essential for a fair and effective criminal justice system.

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