Define: Writ Of Audita Querela

Writ Of Audita Querela
Writ Of Audita Querela
Quick Summary of Writ Of Audita Querela

A writ of audita querela is a legal document that enables individuals to contest a previously made judgement or order. It is used when new information or circumstances arise that were not known at the time of the initial decision. For instance, if someone is convicted of a crime and later discovers evidence that was not presented during the trial, they can file a writ of audita querela to challenge the conviction based on the new evidence. Similarly, if someone is instructed to pay a debt but later becomes unable to do so due to unforeseen circumstances, they can file a writ of audita querela to request the court to reconsider the order based on their changed financial situation. The writ of audita querela provides a means for individuals to seek justice and fairness in situations where the original judgement or order no longer appears appropriate or just.

What is the dictionary definition of Writ Of Audita Querela?
Dictionary Definition of Writ Of Audita Querela

The writ of audita querela, also referred to as a writ of capias, is a legal instrument that enables individuals to contest a prior court ruling or judgement. It serves as a means for individuals to present new evidence or argue that an error was made during the initial trial. By utilizing this writ, individuals can request the court to reevaluate their case and potentially alter the final decision.

Full Definition Of Writ Of Audita Querela

Audita querela, an ancient common law writ, has long been considered a remedy for defendants who, after a judgment, face new circumstances rendering the enforcement of that judgment unjust. Its roots trace back to medieval England, serving as a pivotal mechanism within the common law system to ensure fairness and justice. This essay delves into the historical context, evolution, procedural aspects, and contemporary relevance of the writ of audita querela, especially within the British legal system.

Historical Context and Evolution

Origins in Medieval England

The writ of audita querela originated in the 13th century, during a period when the English common law system was still developing its various procedural mechanisms. The Latin term “audita querela” translates to “the complaint having been heard,” indicative of its role in providing a forum for grievances. It was conceived as a remedy available to a defendant against whom a judgment had been rendered, allowing them to present new evidence or legal arguments that emerged post-judgment.

Development Through the Centuries

In its early usage, audita querela was primarily employed to address situations where the defendant had a defence arising after the judgment, which could not have been raised earlier. For example, if the judgment debtor had paid the debt but the creditor still sought enforcement, the writ could be used to halt the process. Over the centuries, its application expanded to encompass various forms of equitable relief, particularly in cases where executing the judgment would be fundamentally unjust due to new developments.

During the reign of Edward III, audita querela became more formalised, aligning with the broader codification and procedural standardisation efforts within the common law system. However, its prominence began to wane with the development of more modern equitable remedies and statutory provisions that addressed similar concerns.

Procedural Aspects of Audita Querela

Filing the Writ

The procedural aspects of audita querela are rooted in its common law origins. To initiate the process, the defendant (now the applicant) must file a writ of audita querela in the appropriate court. This writ typically outlines the new facts or circumstances that have arisen since the original judgment, demonstrating why enforcement of that judgment would now be inequitable.

Grounds for Relief

The grounds for relief under audita querela are diverse, generally falling into two broad categories:

  1. New Evidence: Situations where new evidence has emerged that could not have been presented during the original trial. This evidence must be material and capable of altering the outcome of the case.
  2. Subsequent Events: Circumstances where events occurring after the judgment render its enforcement unjust. For instance, if the debtor has fulfilled the judgment’s requirements (e.g., paid the debt), yet the creditor seeks to enforce the judgment due to procedural reasons or oversight.

Judicial Discretion

The court holds significant discretion in deciding whether to grant relief under audita querela. The applicant must demonstrate that the new evidence or subsequent events are compelling enough to warrant reconsideration of the judgment. The court’s role is to balance the principles of finality in litigation with the need for equitable relief, ensuring justice is served in light of new developments.

Contemporary Relevance and Application

Decline in Use

Over time, the writ of audita querela has seen a decline in use, particularly with the advent of more modern procedural mechanisms and equitable remedies. In the British legal system, remedies such as appeals, motions for reconsideration, and statutory provisions offer more streamlined and codified avenues for addressing post-judgment issues. Additionally, the growth of equitable jurisdiction in the courts has provided more flexible and nuanced remedies than those available under the rigid common law system.

Resurgence in Specific Jurisdictions

Despite its decline in general usage, audita querela has experienced a resurgence in certain jurisdictions, particularly within the United States. Here, it has been invoked in federal courts to address unique post-conviction relief scenarios, particularly in criminal cases where new constitutional or legal arguments emerge after the judgment. This demonstrates the writ’s enduring relevance in contexts where existing procedural mechanisms are inadequate.

British Context

In the contemporary British legal system, audita querela is rarely invoked. Its principles, however, continue to influence modern legal doctrines and procedural rules. The equitable nature of the writ has informed the development of broader judicial discretion and the emphasis on fairness in post-judgment proceedings. Moreover, certain statutory provisions and court rules implicitly reflect the underlying principles of audita querela, offering relief in scenarios that the writ traditionally addressed.

Comparative Analysis with Related Doctrines

Audita Querela vs. Coram Nobis

A comparative analysis of audita querela and coram nobis (another ancient writ) highlights their distinct yet overlapping functions. While audita querela addresses new developments arising after judgment, coram nobis is typically used to correct errors of fact that existed at the time of judgment but were not known to the court or the parties. In British jurisprudence, coram nobis has similarly faded into obscurity, with its functions absorbed by modern procedural remedies.

Influence on Modern Procedural Mechanisms

The influence of audita querela is evident in various modern procedural mechanisms, such as applications for setting aside default judgments, stay of execution orders, and post-judgment relief applications. These mechanisms encapsulate the writ’s essence—providing a means to address injustice arising from new facts or subsequent events—while offering a more structured and codified process.

Key Case Law and Judicial Interpretations

Historical Case Law

Several historical cases illustrate the application and evolution of audita querela. One notable case is Read v. Rann (1795), where the court deliberated on the applicability of audita querela in light of new evidence that emerged after the original judgment. The case underscored the necessity of balancing finality in litigation with equitable considerations, a principle that continues to resonate in modern jurisprudence.

Modern Judicial Interpretations

In contemporary judicial interpretations, audita querela is often referenced in discussions about equitable relief and the evolution of post-judgment remedies. For example, in R v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Bentley (1994), the court’s emphasis on justice and fairness in post-conviction relief echoed the equitable principles underlying audita querela. Although the case did not directly involve the writ, its spirit was evident in the court’s reasoning.

Theoretical Perspectives and Criticisms

Theoretical Underpinnings

The theoretical underpinnings of audita querela are grounded in the common law’s commitment to justice and fairness. The writ represents an early recognition of the need for flexible, equitable remedies to address unforeseen developments post-judgment. Its emphasis on new evidence and subsequent events reflects a dynamic view of justice, one that accommodates changing circumstances and evolving understandings of fairness.

Criticisms and Limitations

Despite its noble intentions, audita querela has faced criticisms and limitations. Critics argue that its broad discretionary nature can lead to inconsistent applications, undermining the predictability and finality of judgments. Additionally, the writ’s historical obscurity and procedural complexities have limited its accessibility, often requiring specialised legal knowledge to invoke effectively.


The writ of audita querela, though ancient and infrequently used in contemporary British law, remains a testament to the common law’s adaptability and commitment to justice. Its historical significance, procedural nuances, and enduring principles continue to influence modern legal doctrines and equitable remedies. By providing a mechanism to address post-judgment injustices arising from new evidence or subsequent events, audita querela embodies the dynamic and equitable spirit of the common law tradition.

In conclusion, while audita querela may no longer be at the forefront of legal practice, its legacy persists in the continued evolution of equitable remedies and procedural fairness within the British legal system. Understanding its origins, development, and contemporary relevance provides valuable insights into the common law’s capacity to balance finality with justice, ensuring that the legal system remains responsive to the complexities of real-world scenarios.

Writ Of Audita Querela FAQ'S

A Writ of Audita Querela is a legal remedy that allows a party to challenge a judgement or order that has become final.

A Writ of Audita Querela can be used when a party has discovered new evidence or has a valid defence that was not available at the time of the original judgement or order.

A party who is affected by a final judgement or order can file a Writ of Audita Querela.

The deadline for filing a Writ of Audita Querela varies depending on the jurisdiction and the circumstances of the case.

The process for filing a Writ of Audita Querela involves filing a motion with the court and providing evidence to support the claim.

After a Writ of Audita Querela is filed, the court will review the motion and evidence and determine whether to grant the relief requested.

Relief that can be granted through a Writ of Audita Querela includes vacating or modifying a judgement or order, or granting a new trial.

Yes, a Writ of Audita Querela can be used to challenge a criminal conviction if new evidence or a valid defence is discovered after the conviction becomes final.

Yes, a Writ of Audita Querela can be used to challenge a civil judgement if new evidence or a valid defence is discovered after the judgement becomes final.

No, a Writ of Audita Querela is not the same as an appeal. An appeal is a separate legal process that challenges the decision of a lower court, while a Writ of Audita Querela challenges a final judgement or order based on new evidence or a valid defence.

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This site contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. Persuing this glossary does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

This glossary post was last updated: 9th June 2024.

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