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What Does "Praecipe" Mean?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2014
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A praecipe is a legal writ issued either to the clerk of a court or to a person in whom the court has an interest. The writ contains a command with details about the specifics of the situation, and a copy is filed with the court, along with the rest of the record pertaining to a particular case. These writs can be used in a number of different ways, and people interacting with a court may be familiar with them.

In the first sense, the praecipe is an order issued to the clerk, asking the clerk in turn to issue another legal order. It can be provided to the clerk by the judge or by a party to the case. Examples include an order to generate a subpoena or enforce a judgment. The clerk reads over the praecipe, notes the details, and generates a court order to meet the requirements. For example, a judge can ask a clerk to generate a legal order authorizing the repossession of a person's property to satisfy the terms of a debt judgment.

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The praecipe can also take the form of a legal writ ordering a person to do something and noting that in the event of noncompliance, the person needs to appear in court to explain why the order was not followed. People who receive such documents can review them with an attorney and decide on the course of action to take. Someone can refuse an order on the grounds it is illegal or confusing, for example, or can provide evidence showing how it would be impossible to comply with the order as written.

Like other legal orders, a praecipe is written in precise, formal language to avoid confusion. Doubt about the wording could introduce legal tangles, such as confusion about who is supposed to comply with the order or a lack of clarity about the terms. Many people use basic forms to generate a praecipe to make sure they will include all the necessary information and will use the correct terminology. In the case of orders from parties in a case given to a clerk of the court, the attorneys representing those parties usually draft the form to ensure correctness and completeness.

People interested in the orders and other records surrounding a case can consult the archives of the court to collect information, as long as they know the case number. It is helpful to know when the case was held and which judge oversaw it, as this may be useful for the archivist when locating the documents. Many courts have electronic recordkeeping systems and recent cases may be available remotely via the court's website.

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