If this is a why of the law based on policy, I will move it to the politics site.

I do not think it is right to arrest someone who hasn't broken any laws. The witness didn't probably show up due to medical, psychological, or some other reason. What if the witness went out of the jurisdiction or out of the country?

  • Yeah this sounds like a Politics question.
    – Stackstuck
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 9:46
  • 1
    I think this is a why based on law rather than politics - for what legal reason are such witnesses arrested, rather than for what political reason - and the existing answers point out the legal theory behind it.
    – user4657
    Commented Mar 18, 2018 at 17:49

2 Answers 2


A witness who disobeys a court order has automatically broken the law. Indeed, this is the most fundamental of laws; you can't decide "If I turn up to the hearing I may be punished for my crime; but not attending isn't against the law, so goodbye."

A witness who goes out of the jurisdiction cannot, of course, be punished while there (though when he returns he may have to explain why he chose to leave having been warned that he must attend or face penalties- that is the meaning of sub poena). But your assumption that anybody who fails to attend probably had a good reason betrays a fundamental, though common, misunderstanding. A court has determined that your evidence is necessary for justice to be done. There is therefore no good reason not to attend. It may well be that a doctor would prefer that you did not go to court that day, and if you apply to the court it may be possible to find some arrangement. But you are not allowed to decide 'my convenience is more important than discovering whether the defendant should go to jail or not". Civilised countries have people who are empowered to make that decision; they are called judges, and the decision has been made.


But they have broken the law - a summons is an order of the court, not obeying a court order is the crime of contempt of court (in general, specific jurisdictions have specific penalties for failing to attend a summons). Illness or misadventure are legitimate defences for failing to attend a subpoena. Going out of the jurisdiction isn’t.

The public policy reasons for this are clear: a subpoenaed witness is required for the execution of justice. Not to mention that there a whole bunch of people waiting for this witness and they would be inconvenienced if they don’t show up..

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