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The Prerogative Writs

The Prerogative Writs

Writs are an interesting topic in law because they allow higher courts to compel lower courts to act in certain ways, usually in order to protect citizens from corrupt courts or to move the legal system along in the face of stagnation. This article describes each of the seven prerogative writs.
OpinionFront Staff
Writs and Prerogative Writs

In law, a writ is an official order given by a court that can apply to individuals or groups depending upon the decree of the court and the nature of the writ itself. In contemporary legal English, the word "writ" is most commonly used to refer to one or more of the prerogative writs. The prerogative writs, also called common law writs or extraordinary writs, are a group of seven writs originally ordered by the courts of England as rules governing lesser courts. Today, some of the prerogative writs are in use, while others are not. Some of the writs are also in use, under the same or different names, in other countries such as the United States and India.

Habeas Corpus

The writ of habeas corpus is the most widely known writ because it is still referred to by that name. In Latin, habeas corpus means "you may have the body". The writ orders a body that has custody over an individual to bring the individual to court to ensure that the custodianship of that individual is legal. For example, a prison may be issued a writ of habeas corpus so that a prisoner must be brought to trial to determine whether he or she ought to remain in prison. Traditionally, this writ is intended to protect citizens from arbitrary imprisonment. Read more on glossary of legal terms and meanings.

Certiorari

The writ of certiorari relates to review of lower courts' cases by higher courts. In Latin, certiorari means "to be more fully informed". If a court issues a writ of certiorari, the lower court to which the writ was issued must present the relevant records and documents for a given case so that the higher court can review it. This writ is commonly used to guard against errors in decisions made by lower courts.

Mandamus

The writ of mandamus is an order that someone, usually a government official or lower court, do something that body is legally obliged to do. This writ may be issued if a lower court has not acted according to the law, but a writ of mandamus cannot be used to compel someone to do something he or she is not legally obliged to do. In Latin, mandamus means "we command".

Prohibition

A writ of prohibition might be viewed as the opposite of the writ of mandamus. A writ of prohibition is a court order that commands a lower court to stop doing something it is doing. In order to be valid, a writ of prohibition must be applied to an action that the lower court (or other body receiving the writ, often an individual judge) is legally not allowed to do. In other words, the writ does not apply to things that the court is not legally prohibited from doing.

ScireFacias

Although it has been abolished in the United States, the writ of scirefacias, Latin for "to know the causes" is still of legal and historical relevance. Similar to the process of impeachment, the writ of scirefacias compels a lower court to provide the record of a given case and for the defendant in the case to defend against the record. In some U.S. states, this writ can still be used to bring stagnant cases into action.

Procedeno and Quo Warranto

The final two writs, the writ of procedeno and the writ of quo warranto, are now mostly obsolete, or are used very infrequently. The writ of procedeno compels a lower court to make a judgment on a case. The writ of quo warranto compels a party to prove that they are actually entitled to a right they claim to possess.