Concept of Writs In India


A Writ is a formal written order issued by a government entity in the name of the sovereign power. In most cases, this government entity is a court. In modern democratic countries, the administrative authorities are vested with vast discretionary powers. The exercise of those powers often becomes subjective in the absence of specific guidelines etc. Hence the need for a control of the discretionary powers is essential to ensure that ‘Rule of Law’ exist in all governmental actions. The judicial review of administrative actions in the form of writ jurisdiction is to ensure that the decisions taken by the authorities are legal, rational, proper, just, fair and reasonable. Safeguard of fundamental rights and assurance of natural justice are the most important components of writ jurisdictions

Writs are meant as prerogative remedies. The writ jurisdictions exercised by the Supreme Court under article 32 and by the high courts under article 226, for the enforcement of fundamental rights are mandatory and not discretionary. But the writ jurisdiction of high courts for 'any other purpose' is discretionary. In that sense the writ jurisdiction of high courts are of a very intrinsic nature. Hence high courts have the great responsibility of exercising this jurisdiction strictly in accordance with judicial considerations and well established principles. When ordinary legal remedies seem inadequate, in exceptional cases, writs are applied.


Types of Writs:


1. Habeas Corpus:  The meaning of the Latin phrase Habeas Corpus is 'have the body'. According to Article 21, "no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law". The writ of Habeas corpus is in the nature of an order directing a person who has detained another, to produce the latter before the court in order to examine the legality of the detention and to set him free if there is no legal justification for the detention. It is a process by which an individual who has been deprived of his personal liberty can test the validity of the act before a higher court.

The objective of the writ of habeas corpus is to provide for a speedy judicial review of alleged unlawful restraint on liberty. It aims not at the punishment of the wrongdoer but to resume the release of the retinue. The writ of habeas corpus enables the immediate determination of the right of the appellant's freedom. In the writs of habeas corpus, the merits of the case or the moral justification for the imprisonment or detention are irrelevant. In A.D.M. Jabalpur v. Shivakant Shukla , it was observed that “the writ of Habeas Corpus is a process for securing the liberty of the subject by affording an effective means of immediate relief from unlawful or unjustifiable detention whether in prison or private custody. If there is no legal justification for that detention, then the party is ordered to be released.”


2. Certiorari: The writ of Certiorari is generally issued against authorities exercising quasi-judicial functions. The Latin word Certiorari means 'to certify'. Certiorari can be defined as a judicial order of the supreme court or by the high courts to an inferior court or to any other authority that exercise judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative functions, to transmit to the court the records of proceedings pending with them for scrutiny and to decide the legality and validity of the order passed by them. Through this writ, the court quashes or declares invalid a decision taken by the concerned authority. Though it was meant as a supervisory jurisdiction over inferior courts originally, these remedy is extended to all authorities who issue similar functions.

The concept of natural justice and the requirement of fairness in actions, the scope of certiorari have been extended even to administrative decisions. An instance showing the certiorari powers was exercised by the Hon’ble Supreme court in A.K.Kraipak v. Union of India, where the selection was challenged on the ground of bias. The Supreme Court delineated the distinction between quasi judicial and administrative authority. The Supreme Court exercising the powers issued the writ of Certiorari for quashing the action. Certiorari is corrective in nature. This writ can be issued to any constitutional, statutory or non statutory body or any person who exercise powers affecting the rights of citizens.


3. Prohibition:  The grounds for issuing the writs of certiorari and prohibition are generally the same. They have many common features too. The writ of prohibition is a judicial order issued to a constitutional, statutory or non statutory body or person if it exceeds its jurisdiction or it tries to exercise a jurisdiction not vested upon them. It is a general remedy for the control of judicial, quasi judicial and administrative decisions affecting the rights of persons.

The writ of Prohibition is issued by the court exercising the power and authorities from continuing the proceedings as basically such authority has no power or jurisdiction to decide the case. Prohibition is an extra ordinary prerogative writ of a preventive nature. The underlying principle is that ‘prevention is better than cure.’ In East India Commercial Co. Ltd v. Collector of Customs, a writ of prohibition is an order directed to an inferior Tribunal forbidding it from continuing with a proceeding therein on the ground that the proceeding is without or in excess of jurisdiction or contrary to the laws of the land, statutory or otherwise.


4. Mandamus:  The writ of mandamus is a judicial remedy in the form of an order from the supreme court or high courts to any inferior court, government or any other public authority to carry out a 'public duty' entrusted upon them either by statute or by common law or to refrain from doing a specific act which that authority is bound to refrain from doing under the law. For the grant of the writ of mandamus there must be a public duty. The superior courts command an authority to perform a public duty or to non perform an act which is against the law. The word meaning in Latin is 'we command'. The writ of mandamus is issued to any authority which enjoys judicial, quasi judicial or administrative power. The main objective of this writ is to keep the public authorities within the purview of their jurisdiction while performing public duties. The writ of mandamus can be issued if the public authority vested with power abuses the power or acts mala fide to it. In Halsbury’s Laws of England , it is mentioned that, “As a general rule the order will not be granted unless the party complained of has known what it was required to do, so that he had the means of considering whether or not he should comply, and it must be shown by evidence that there was a distinct demand of that which the party seeking the mandamus desires to enforce and that that demand was met by a refusal.”


5. Quo Warranto: The word meaning of 'Quo warranto' is 'by what authority'. It is a judicial order against a person who occupies a substantive public office without any legal authority. The person is asked to show by what authority he occupies the position or office. This writ is meant to oust persons, who are not legally qualified, fro substantive public posts. The writ of Quo warranto is to confirm the right of citizens to hold public offices. In this writ the court or the judiciary reviews the action of the executive with regard to appointments made against statutory provisions, to public offices .It also aims to protect those persons who are deprived of their right to hold a public office.

In University of Mysore v. Govinda Rao, the Supreme Court observed that the procedure of quo Warranto confers the jurisdiction and authority on the judiciary to control executive action in making the appointments to public offices against the relevant statutory provisions; it also protects a citizen being deprived of public office to which he may have a right.