Definition of writ
writ (plural writs)
- (law) A written order, issued by a court, ordering someone to do (or stop doing) something.
In common law, a writ is a formal written order issued by a body with administrative or judicial jurisdiction; in modern usage, this body is generally a court. Warrants, prerogative writs and subpoenas are common types of writs but there are many others.
Originally, a writ became necessary, in most cases, to have a case heard in one of the Royal Courts, such as the King's Bench or Common Pleas. Some franchise courts, especially in the Counties Palatine, had their own system of writs that often reflected or anticipated the common law writs. The writ would act as a command that the case be brought before the court issuing the writ, or it might command some other act on the part of the recipient.
With the abolition of the Forms of Action in 1832 and 1833, a profusion of writs was no longer needed, and one uniform writ came to be used. After 1852, the need to state the name of the form of action was also abolished. In 1875, the form of writ was altered so that it conformed more to the subpoena that had been in use in the Chancery. A writ was a summons from the Crown, to the parties to the action, with on its back the substance of the action set out, together with a 'prayer' requesting a remedy from the court (for example damages). In 1980, the need for writs to be written in the name of the Crown was ended. From that time, a writ simply required the parties to appear.
Writs applied to claims that were to be issued in one of the courts that eventually formed a part of the High Court of Justice. The procedure in a County Court, which was established by statute, was to issue a 'summons'.
In 1999 the Woolf Reforms unified most of the procedure of the Supreme Court and the County Court in civil matters. These reforms ushered in the Civil Procedure Rules. Under these almost all civil actions, other than those connected with insolvency, are now begun by the completion of a 'Claim Form' as opposed to a 'Writ', 'Originating Application', or 'Summons': see Rules 7 and 8 of the Civil Procedure Rules.
United States law
Early law of the United States inherited the traditional English writ system, in the sense of a rigid set of forms of relief that the law courts were authorized to grant.
The All Writs Act authorizes United States federal courts to "issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law." However, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, adopted in 1938 to govern civil procedure in the United States district courts, provide that there is only one form of action in civil cases, and explicitly abolish certain writs by name. Relief formerly available by a writ is now normally available by a lawsuit (civil action) or a motion in a pending civil action. Nonetheless, a few writs have escaped abolition and remain in current use in the U.S. federal courts.
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