Category: 

In Law, What Is a Writ?

Subpoenas are one type of writ.
The United States Supreme Court issues a writ of certiorari when it agrees to hear arguments related to a case.
A writ of certiorari seeks Supreme Court review and decision in a case that has exhausted its appeals and is otherwise at the end of the line.
A writ is a written, legal document issued by a court ordering a person to take an action or forbidding that person from taking an action.
An arrest warrant is considered a court writ.
Article Details
  • Written By: Cynthia Gomez
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Images By: Marzky Ragsac Jr., Bastos, Samhsloan@gmail.com, Uwimages, Ivanfff
  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article
Free Widgets for your Site/Blog
Alfred Hitchcock never won an Oscar.  more...

August 29 ,  2005 :  Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.  more...

A writ is essentially a legal, written document issued by a court ordering someone to take the specified action or prohibiting a specified action. There are many different kinds of writs. For instance, an arrest warrant orders that the person named in the warrant be arrested. Subpoenas are another common type, and order someone to appear in court, usually to testify in a trial.

In England, the usage of legal writs began in the times when common law was the law of the land. Originally, it was a letter from an authority with jurisdiction, indicating that some action be taken. Back then, a writ petition had to be issued so that a case could even be heard by the royal courts. The Woolf Reforms, passed in 1999, replaced the use of the writ form to start a civil action with a claim form.

The United States adopted the use of writ law, although over time the two systems' use of writs evolved in different ways. In the US, the All Writs Act allowed federal courts in the country to issue the writs necessary to aid their jurisdictions. In 1938, however, the Federal Rules and Civil Procedures abolished certain writs offering relief, so that such relief is now available instead through lawsuits and motions of the court in pending cases.

Ad

One such document still commonly used in the US is the habeas corpus, through which a person can ask a court for relief from what they believe to be unlawful detention. The writ of garnishment allows for a court to order the seizure of property that is in the possession of a person but belongs to a third party. This happens often when a court issues a judgment in favor of a debtor. Meanwhile, a writ petition is a request to go before a court of appeals before a final judgment is issued by the prior court.

The Indian legal system also uses writs. In fact, the country's constitution awards its courts the right to use them. In this country, one of the most common types of writs is that of prohibition, in which a higher court prohibits a lower court from taking a case, stating that the court does not have appropriate jurisdictional power. The writ of certiorari is another common one, and directs a lower court to send any records pertaining to a case to a higher court for review.

Ad

Discuss this Article

stl156
Post 4

@JimmyT - You are right. The Constitution does grant habeus corpus but only to American citizens. At least that is the reasoning being used as to why terrorists could be detained without a trial.

There have been a couple of times during wars where writ of habeus corpus was suspended, but that is expressly allowed by the Constitution. I believe the terrorism issues started after the Oklahoma City bombing and said that anyone suspected of terrorism could be held. Of course, this become much more common after 9/11.

I don't know where the issue stands now, but I guess all American citizens are still supposed to be granted habeus corpus regardless of whether they are suspected terrorists. Courts are divided on whether non-citzens should have this right, though. That is where Guantanamo Bay came into the argument, because people were being kept there for years without going to court (among other things).

JimmyT
Post 3

I seem to remember hearing something not too long about about writ of habeas corpus being able to be suspended if you were suspected of being a terrorist. I think it caused a bit of an uproar, because people thought that it would allow the government to hold be indefinitely without giving them a trial.

If this is true, it sounds like it could lead to a lot of problems. If habeas corpus is in the Constitution, how can the government take the right away from people without it being illegal?

It seems like I remember the argument being centered around Guantanamo Bay somehow. Does anyone remember what the exact story was and whether or not people can be detained without a trial?

jmc88
Post 2

@cardsfan27 - It seems like most writs fall into certain categories, so one term might be used to cover a lot of different things. A couple writs that I remember are writ of attachment which would be like a creditor taking property. There is also writ of capias, which is the formal term for an arrest warrant.

I think it is interesting how writs are used differently in other countries. They are common in the United States, but it seems like other countries may rely on them more often for various things.

I think part of it is the fact that the U.S. Constitution doesn't really lay out much groundwork for the courts. They have mostly just formed by using the English system and modifying them to work for American law.

cardsfan27
Post 1

I had heard of writ of habeas corpus but didn't know what exactly a writ was. It sounds like they are a pretty common part of law whether or not we use the word very often.

Because the article talks about writs also being applied to things like warrants and forced payments, does that mean that most common legal things actually have a formal name that uses the word "writ?" I would be interested to know if anyone else knows of any common legal practices that have more formal names like that.

Post your comments

Post Anonymously

Login

username
password
forgot password?

Register

username
password
confirm
email