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The World Law Dictionary Project

English may be the common language of the world, but the Common Law is not the common law of the world

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e.g. principle, consideration, jurisdiction
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subpoena verb

to issue an order requiring a person to appear in court or at an official enquiry
Scott should be given the power to subpoena witnesses if the enquiry is to be successful.

Hello, welcome to TransLegal's lesson of the week. I'm Robin and we are going to talk about the word subpoena today.

Now subpoena, originating from the Latin phrase, sub poena, meaning under penalty, is a written command to a person to either testify before a court or to be subject to some sort of punishment. Subpoenas are generally associated with the common law legal systems.

Now these documents are usually served on individuals who will be witnesses in an upcoming trial or proceeding. And a subpoena itself usually sets forth the specific location, the scheduled date and time that the witness is requested to appear.
Now a subpoena duces tecum is a special kind of subpoena. It is one that commands the witness to produce documents to the court such as books, financial records or other papers. On a standard, modern subpoena duces tecum form which is served on a witness it states, and I quote "You are commanded to make available the documents and tangible things designated and described below" unquote and then it lists everything that the witness must bring to the court.

Now the word subpoena is also a verb and in that case it means to order that a person attend a court hearing or produce evidence and we hear the verb form in the following sentences, for example, "the committee has no choice but to subpoena the requested material" or "the federal prosecutor has dropped the case without having been able to subpoena the witness saying that she cannot be located".

Now the noun form also appears commonly and we hear it in these contexts: "they were trying to serve a subpoena on one of the Mayor's friends" or "Congress will interview officials from the White House under subpoena" or "the committee has subpoena power".

Finally, the good news for those of you who think that subpoena is a difficult word to remember or to spell or to pronounce, in the UK it has been replaced by the term 'witness summons' as part of reforms to replace Latin terms with English terms which are easier to understand. So for all of you who practice in the UK you can forget everything that I said.

Thanks for listening in any event. This is Robin signing off and asking you to please leave your comments in the box below.

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