Section 174 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 – Explained!

The section does not apply if the person concerned is not legally bound to attend. The expression ‘legally bound to’ has the same meaning as given by section 43 of the Code. Therefore, where the presence of a person cannot be compelled, not attending or refusing to attend does not entail any liability under this section.

The public servant issuing the summons etc. must be legally competent to issue the same: if he is not so, then non-attendance does not make one liable under this section. Where a person is justified by law not to attend, such as when, for instance, he is physically incapacitated, he cannot be held guilty under this section.

The Madras High Court has held that since the Madras General Sales Tax Act does not contain any provision which empowers any officer to call for account books for a departmental inquiry or inspect claims of exemption which have been granted by the assessing authority as per provisions of law, failure to comply with the summons to produce such accounts or claims for inspection does not make one guilty under this section.

The Himachal Pradesh High Court is of the view that where petitioners were required to be present at a police station under a summons issued under section 160, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 but the summons were served on them at a distant place, failure to comply with the same could not mean a liability under this section because the section empowers a police officer to require attendance before him of any person within the limits of either his own or an adjoining police station only.

The Madras High Court has ruled that a magistrate in India is competent to summon a person only at a place within the territory of India and not outside. Therefore, not attending at a place outside India in response to a summon will not make a person guilty under this section.

The Andhra Pradesh High Court has held that the offence enumerated under section 174 of the Code is not the offence which can be tried summarily under section 345 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.

In Union of India v. S. P. Goyal, the accused disobeyed the summons issued by a customs officer. He was specifically directed to appear in person. The Bombay High Court held that the accused had no authority to send his representative instead which he did and so he was guilty under section 174 of the Indian Penal Code and section 108 of the Customs Act, 1962.

The offence under this section is non-cognizable, bailable and non-compoundable, and is triable by any magistrate.