Odgers' Australian Senate Practice Thirteenth Edition

Chapter 17 - Witnesses

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Summoning of witnesses

In practice, it is rare for a committee to order the attendance of a witness because it is rare for anyone to refuse a committee's invitation to give evidence. A summons may be issued whether or not an invitation has been issued. This is necessary because an obligation to invite in every instance could conceivably result in an essential but reluctant witness refusing an invitation and then becoming incommunicado. In such a situation a summons might not be capable of effective delivery and a failure to answer it may not therefore be justly punished. Where this is anticipated a committee may issue a summons in the first instance. These principles also apply where a committee wishes to order the production of documents.

Where the Senate or a committee makes a decision to summon a witness, a summons is issued by the Clerk of the Senate or the secretary of the committee, respectively. In the case of a committee, the failure of a witness to respond to a summons is reported to the Senate.[34] This requirement for committees to report any failure to comply with a summons arises from the fact that only the Senate can deal with any contempt.[35]

The Senate may order particular witnesses to appear before committees and give evidence. In all cases where witnesses were ordered to appear, they complied with the orders (the required documents being produced in one case. They were all public office-holders; this procedure has not been used for private citizens.[36]

Where a committee with power to do so resolves to order the attendance of a witness a summons is prepared, signed by the secretary and delivered to the person by a means which satisfies the committee that the person will receive it. In the past, summonses have been personally delivered by a committee's secretary or faxed to a business or legal adviser's address and receipt confirmed by telephone. The important element is not the means of delivery but the certainty of receipt.


34. SO 176.
35. See Chapter 2, Parliamentary Privilege.
36. 7/2/1995, J.2895-7; 6/6/1995, J.3364-5; 22/10/1997, J.2673; 21/10/1999, J.1966; 10/4/2000, J.2582-3, 2585; 28/11/2000, J.3594-5; 19/6/2001, J.4322; 12/3/2002, J.154-6; 25/11/2003, J.2709-10; 28/10/2009, J.2661-2; 13/5/2010, J.3494.

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