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What to do if you are prosecuted

If you are prosecuted by the ATO, you will need to attend court to answer allegations that you have committed an offence.

Last updated 12 November 2019

We prefer to see compliance without having to use the court system. However, in some situations, we need to start criminal court proceedings.

This might happen when people:

  • fail to comply with a final notice to lodge returns
  • fail to keep records
  • fail to provide information or attend interviews
  • make false or misleading statements.

We also refer more serious fraud cases to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) to prosecute on our behalf.

See also:

If you are prosecuted

If we start prosecution action, you will be served with one of the following documents:

  • Complaint and Summons (QLD, VIC, TAS, ACT, NT)
  • Information and Summons (SA)
  • Court Attendance Notice (NSW, WA).

Although they all have slightly different names, each document is commonly called a summons. Usually, a summons will be issued by a process server, but it may also be served by mail or police.

The decision to prosecute is made after careful consideration, and after we've made multiple attempts to contact you.

If you're not sure whether the document you received is legitimate, contact us on 1800 008 540 to confirm.

Understanding a summons

A summons is an official court document. It means you must appear in court to answer allegations that you have committed a criminal offence.

It usually includes:

  • the name and contact details of the ATO officer issuing the document
  • a description of the allegations made against you
  • the date, time and location of your hearing
  • court contact details.

Responding to a summons

Being issued with a summons is serious, and could result in a criminal conviction.

If you receive a summons, read the document carefully and think about whether to seek legal advice.

It's important to comply with the summons and attend your court date. If you don't, a warrant could be issued for your arrest. A judgment could also be made in your absence, without you having your say.

Appearing in court

Your first appearance in court is called a first mention. During this appearance you will be asked by the Magistrate to plead guilty or not guilty. You may also ask for an adjournment to obtain legal advice.

If you plead guilty, the Magistrate may either sentence you immediately or adjourn the matter to another date for sentencing.

If you plead not guilty, the matter will progress to another date.

If convicted, a court might impose:

  • a bond
  • fines
  • jail time.

Seeking assistance

If you have any questions, contact the ATO officer listed on the summons. They can't offer legal advice, but they can help you understand the process and explain anything you don't understand.

If you choose to seek legal advice, you can contact a lawyer or firm directly to discuss your situation.

The following court websites provide more general information about attending court: