What is a Writ and who can issue it? Can a normal person issue a writ on some normal person or should be done on an institution?

I'm asking this with respect to India. Is the meaning the same across all countries?

3 Answers 3


A "writ" is a formal written order issued by a court to another entity.

A "writ of mandamus" is an order to a lower court or government official to do something they are obliged to do by law.

It is one of the "prerogative writs".

Another well-known example is a "writ of habeas corpus": an order to produce a detained person in court, in particular to determine whether the detention is lawful.

A person might ask a court to issue a writ.

  • 1
    Thank you for the answer. So, Writ can only be issued by the court? Can a normal person ask the court to issue a writ? A normal person can't issue a writ?
    – Newbie
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 17:57
  • @Newbie A member of the public can't issue a writ. They - or more likely their lawyer - would ask a court to issue a writ.
    – Lag
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 18:02
  • Oh in that case, the court can issue to another entity in the sense? What would that entity be? Can it be only a public government entity or can it be a private entity or can it be to any other person?
    – Newbie
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 18:11
  • 1
    @Newbie typically some element of the state or representative, e.g. government official, government minister, police, detention authority, lower court. There were some writs involving ordinary people but I think these have been modernised away in the UK and USA anyway.
    – Lag
    Commented Jul 7, 2022 at 18:19
  • @Lag Typically a writ of habeas corpus would be served on someone like a prison governer but it could be a private individual. There was a recent case where a writ was sought against the Bronx Zoo on behalf of an elephant.
    – richardb
    Commented Jul 8, 2022 at 7:18

Generally, a writ is an order of a court specifically issued to another governmental agency or official (including judges and courts), directing that agency or official to take or refrain from taking certain actions. See Wikipeida.

Specifically, in the law of India:

Under the Indian legal system, jurisdiction to issue 'prerogative writs' is given to the Supreme Court, and to the High Courts of Judicature of all Indian states. Parts of the law relating to writs are set forth in the Constitution of India. The Supreme Court, the highest in the country, may issue writs under Article 32 of the Constitution for enforcement of fundamental rights and under Article 139 for enforcement of rights other than fundamental rights, while High Courts, the superior courts of the States, may issue writs under Articles 226. The Constitution broadly provides for five kinds of "prerogative" writs: habeas corpus, certiorari, mandamus, quo warranto and prohibition:

  • The writ of prohibition (forbid) is issued by a higher court to a lower court prohibiting it from taking up a case because it falls outside the jurisdiction of the lower court. Thus, the higher court transfers the case to itself.

  • The writ of habeas corpus (to have the body of) is issued to a detaining authority, ordering the detainer to produce the detained person in the issuing court, along with the cause of his or her detention. If the detention is found to be illegal, the court issues an order to set the person free.

  • The writ of certiorari (be informed) is issued to a lower court directing that the record of a case be sent up for review, together with all supporting files, evidence, and documents, usually with the intention of overruling the judgment of the lower court. It is one of the mechanisms by which the fundamental rights of the citizens are upheld.

  • The writ of mandamus (command) is issued to a subordinate court, an officer of the government, or a corporation or other institution commanding the performance of certain acts or duties.

  • The writ of quo warranto (by what authority; under what warrant) is issued against a person who claims or usurps a public office. Through this writ, the court inquires 'by what authority' the person supports his or her claim.

A writ of mandamus, in particular, is often issues by a higher court to a lower court in connection with circumstances in which a direct appeal to the higher court is not yet ripe because the case has not been concluded yet, but there would be prejudice to the party to the lower court action who is seeking the writ to wait until then for higher court intervention (e.g. because the disclosure of attorney-client privileged information which a lower court order has directed a party to disclose could not be remedied on appeal once the "cat is out of the bag").

Can someone tell me whether the meaning is the same across all countries?

The meaning is similar, since all writs have a common, common law legal system origin. But, the details of writ practice vary in detail from one jurisdiction to another.

Many U.S. states have abolished the historical latin based writ names, and many states have provided equivalent remedies with different procedural nuances.

For example, in historical common law practice, a writs of mandamus had to name the trial court judge as a party, and a writ of habeas corpus was functionally an independent legal action filed against the warden of the prison where the person seeking relief was being held.

But, in modern Colorado state court practice, writ of mandamus has been replaced with a motion under a particular court rule filed in the state supreme court that does not name the trial court judge as a party, and the writ of habeas corpus has largely been replaced with a motion within the criminal case where a judgment is being collaterally attacked that does not name the warden of the place where the person is being held as a party.


Page 540 from A Dictionary of Law (2001, 5 edn, Oxford University Press), edited by Elizabeth A. Martin (I don't have the latest 2022 10th edn, edited by Jonathan Law) defines a writ as:

An order issued by a court in the sovereign's namethat directs some act or forbearance. Originally, a writ was an instrument under seal bearing some command of the sovereign.

You should Google for lists of law dictionaries! Australian Law Dictionary (3rd edn) by Trischa Mann is listed by Deakin, Monash, Victoria University Melbourne.

Queen's University lists Canadian law dictionaries.

Oxford University needs to update their list!


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