Writ “Legally” Defined

The following definitions for “writ” are taken from Ballantine’s Law Dictionary (3rd edition), Bouvier’s Law Dictionary (6th edition), Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition), and Webster’s Dictionary (1828):




A process [42 Am J1st Proc § 2]. A process authorizing or commanding the arrest of a person or the seizure of property, sometimes the seizure of property specifically described in the writ, at other times the seizure of any property of the defendant, not exempt from seizure, sufficient to satisfy the amount of a judgment against the defendant [Caples v State, 3 Okla Crim 72, 104 P 493]; see alias writ; prerogative writ; supervisory writ; teste.



WRIT, practice.

  1. A mandatory precept issued by the authority, and in the name of the sovereign or the state, for the purpose of compelling the defendant to do something therein mentioned.

  2. It is issued by the court or other competent jurisdiction, and is returnable to the same. It is to be under seal and tested by the proper officer, and is directed to the sheriff, or other officer lawfully authorized to execute the same. Writs are divided into:

      1. Original.

      2. Of mesne process.

      3. Of execution

  3. There are several kinds of writs [Vide 3 Bl. Com. 273; 1 Tidd, Pr. 93; Gould on Pl. c. 2, s. 1].



A precept in writing, couched in the form of a letter, running in the name of the king, president, or state, issuing from a court of justice, and sealed with its seal, addressed to a sheriff or other officer of the law, or directly to the person whose action the court desires to command, either as the commencement of a suit or other proceeding or as incidental to its progress, and requiring the performance of a specified act, or giving authority and commission to have it done.

For the names and description of various particular writs, see the following titles.

In old English law, an instrument in the form of a letter; a letter or letters of attorney. This is a very ancient sense of the word.

In the old books, “writ” is used as equivalent to “action;” hence writs are sometimes divided into real, personal, and mixed.

In Scotch law, a writing; an instrument in writing, as a deed, bond, contract, etc. [2 Forb. Inst. pt.2 pp. 175 – 179].

  • Alias writ: a second writ issued in the same cause, where a former writ of the same kind has been issued without effect.

  • Close writ: in English law, a name given to certain letters of the sovereign, sealed with his great seal and directed to particular persons and for particular purposes, which, not being proper for public inspection, were closed up and sealed on the outside; also, a writ directed to the sheriff instead of to the lord [2 Bl. Comm. 346, 3 Reave, Eng. Law, 45].

  • Concurrent writs: duplicate originals, or several writs running at the same time for the same purpose, for service on or arrest of a person, when it is not known where he is to be found; or for service on several persons, as when there are several defendants to an action [Mozley & Whitely].

  • Judicial writs: in English practice, such writs as issue under the private seal of the courts, and not under the great seal of England, and are tested or witnessed, not in the king’s name, but in the name of the chief judge of the court out of which they issue. The word “judicial” is used in contradistinction to “original;” original writs being such an issue out of chancery under the great seal, and are witnessed in the king’s name [see 3 Bl. Comm. 282. Pullman’s Palace-Car Co. v. Washburn (C. C.), 66 Fed. 792].

  • Junior writ: one which is issued, or comes to the officer’s hands, at a later time than a similar writ, at the suit of another party, or on a different claim, against the same defendant.

  • Original writ: in English practice, an original writ was the process formerly used in use for the commencement of personal actions. It was a mandatory letter from the king, issuing out of chancery, sealed with the great seal, and directed to the sheriff of the county wherein the injury was committed, or was supposed to have been committed, requiring him to command the wrong-doer or accused party either to do justice to the plaintiff or else to appear in court and answer the accusation against him. This writ is now disused, the writ of summons being the process prescribed the uniformity of process act for commencing personal actions; and under the judicature act, 1873, all suits, even in the court of chancery, are to be commenced by such writs of summons [Brown].

  • Patent writ: in old practice, an open writ; one not closed or sealed up.

  • Peremptory writ: an original writ, called from the words of the writ “si te feccrit securum,” and which directed the sheriff to cause the defendant to appear in court without any option given him, provided the plaintiff gave the sheriff security effectually to prosecute his claim. The writ was very occasionally in use and only where nothing was specifically demanded, but only a satisfaction in general; as in the case of writs of trespass on the case, wherein no debt or other specific thing was sued for, but only damages to be assessed by a jury [Brown].

  • Prerogative writ: those issued by the exercise of the extraordinary power of the crown (the court, in modern practice) on proper cause shown; namely, the writs of procedendo, mandamus, prohibition, quo warranto, habeas corpus, and certiorari.



WRIT, n. [from the word “write”].

  1. That which is written. In this sense, writ is particularly applied to the Scriptures, or books of the Old Testament and New Testament; as holy writ; sacred writ.

  2. In law, precept issued from the proper authority to the sheriff, his deputy or other subordinate officer, commanding him to perform some act, as to summon a defendant into court to answer, and the like.

  • In England, writs are issued from some court under seal. In some of the United States, writs are issued by any single judge or justice of the peace, in the same and by the authority of the senate.

  • In some of the United States, the writ in a civil suit, contains both the summons and the plaintiffs declaration or cause of acton set forth at large, and a writ is either a summons or an attachment.

  • Writs are original or judicial. An original writ, in England, is issued from the high court of chancery. A judicial writ is issued by order of a court upon a special occasion, during the pendency of the suit.

  • Writs are of various kinds; as writs of assize; writs of capias; writs of distringas, etc.

  1. A legal instrument.

WRIT [pret. of write,, is not now used; see Write and Wrote].

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