Legal English: “Writ”

A “writ” (Pronunciation:RIHT uhv sir-chee-oh-RAH-ree; Origin: English) is a fairly archaic term for an official order issued by a governmental authority, most commonly a court. Two familiar types of writs are warrants (for the arrest of an individual) and subpoenas (used in civil proceedings and business litigation to order the production of documents).

Here are some example sentences that use the word:

  • “This litigation isn’t over. We’ll be appealing this to the Supreme Court as soon as we can draft an appropriate request for the writ of certiorari so that we can get our side of the argument heard by an appropriate authority.”
  • “The court had no power to issue that writ. They don’t even have jurisdiction in this matter.”
  • “Your Honor, the plaintiff’s constant filings regarding forgotten Latin writs are a waste of everyone’s time and, moreover, are explicitly barred by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Accordingly, we move that they all be denied and that plaintiff’s counsel be subject to discipline for any further such filings that are violative of federal law.”

Traditionally, many types of court actions and motions were commenced and sought via specific writs. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, however, prohibit many of them expressly. Therefore, many of the traditional writs are now defunct. Several remain in existence, however, and are quite important, such as

  1. The writ of habeas corpus, which is used to challenge whether an individual’s imprisonment is lawful, and
  2. The writ of certiorari, which is used by the United States Supreme Court when it decides to hear an appeal.

A number of other writs remain operative in various states, such as the writ of attachment (which pertains to the seizure of a person or of property) or the writ of coram nobis (which is a catch-all remedy for fundamental miscarriages of justice).

For the most part, however, business litigation proceeds via statutory motion practice without reference to writs.

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