Define: Writ Of Capias Ad Respondendum

Writ Of Capias Ad Respondendum
Writ Of Capias Ad Respondendum
Quick Summary of Writ Of Capias Ad Respondendum

A writ of capias ad respondendum is a legal order that compels a law enforcement officer to apprehend a specified defendant. This writ is commonly issued when a defendant fails to attend court proceedings or when an obligor neglects to make child support payments. For instance, if an individual is summoned to court but fails to appear, a judge may authorise a writ of capias ad respondendum to ensure their presence in court to face the charges against them. Similarly, if someone is instructed to pay child support but fails to do so, a writ of capias ad respondendum may be issued to have them arrested and brought to court to provide an explanation for their noncompliance. In essence, a writ of capias ad respondendum serves as a legal mechanism to guarantee the appearance of defendants in court and the fulfilment of their legal responsibilities.

What is the dictionary definition of Writ Of Capias Ad Respondendum?
Dictionary Definition of Writ Of Capias Ad Respondendum

A writ of capias ad respondendum is a legal document that instructs a law enforcement officer to arrest a specific defendant. This writ is commonly issued when an individual fails to show up in court or neglects to pay child support. Its purpose is to ensure that the defendant appears in court and addresses the charges against them. Additional types of capias writs include capias ad audiendum judicium, capias ad computandum, capias ad faciendum, capias ad satisfaciendum, capias extendi facias, capias in withernam, and capias pro fine.

Full Definition Of Writ Of Capias Ad Respondendum

The Writ of Capias ad Respondendum is an antiquated but historically significant legal mechanism within the common law system, which had roots in medieval England. The term “Capias” is derived from Latin, meaning “that you take,” and “ad respondendum” translates to “to answer.” Thus, the writ’s full meaning can be understood as an order to take a defendant into custody to ensure their appearance in court to respond to a plaintiff’s claim. While modern legal practices have largely rendered the writ obsolete, understanding its function and historical context provides valuable insight into the evolution of legal processes and civil procedure in English law.

Historical Context

The writ of Capias ad Respondendum dates back to the early development of common law in England, a period when personal liberties and the mechanisms for ensuring justice were vastly different from today’s standards. It was one of several writs of Capias, which generally served as orders to take a person into custody. The writ of Capias ad Respondendum specifically targeted defendants in civil cases who had either evaded initial summons or were anticipated to do so, thereby compelling their appearance in court.

This writ was a powerful tool for plaintiffs, particularly in an era when the means to enforce legal claims were limited. It ensured that defendants could not simply ignore legal actions brought against them, thereby upholding the plaintiff’s right to have their case heard. It was an essential part of the legal machinery, contributing to the enforcement of civil justice.

Legal Procedure

Issuance of the Writ

The issuance of a Writ of Capias ad Respondendum followed the failure of the defendant to respond to a summons. The plaintiff would apply to the court for the writ, demonstrating the necessity of compelling the defendant’s appearance. The court, upon reviewing the application, would issue the writ to the sheriff or another officer of the court, commanding them to arrest the defendant and bring them to court.

Execution of the Writ

Upon receipt of the writ, the sheriff was responsible for locating and arresting the defendant. The execution of the writ had to be carried out with strict adherence to legal procedures to avoid abuses of power. The sheriff would typically present the writ to the defendant, explaining the nature of the writ and the requirement to appear in court. Failure to comply could result in detention until the court date.

Defendant’s Appearance in Court

The primary goal of the writ was to ensure the defendant’s appearance in court to answer the plaintiff’s claim. Once in custody, the defendant would be brought before the court where they would be required to respond to the allegations against them. The process ensured that cases could proceed in the defendant’s presence, facilitating a fair hearing of both sides.

Legal Significance

The Writ of Capias ad Respondendum played a crucial role in the administration of justice. Its significance can be observed in several key aspects:

Ensuring Compliance

By compelling defendants to appear in court, the writ ensured that legal proceedings were not obstructed by non-compliance. This compliance was fundamental to the integrity of the judicial system, allowing courts to function effectively and deliver justice.

Protection of Plaintiffs’ Rights

For plaintiffs, the writ was an essential safeguard. It protected their right to have their claims heard and adjudicated, preventing defendants from evading legal responsibility through absence. This protection was particularly important in civil cases involving financial or property disputes.

Evolution of Civil Procedure

The writ contributed to the evolution of civil procedure, influencing the development of more sophisticated methods for ensuring court attendance and compliance with legal processes. Over time, the need for physical arrest diminished as alternative measures, such as bail and summons, became more effective and less intrusive.

Decline and Obsolescence

The use of the Writ of Capias ad Respondendum has largely declined due to several factors:

Development of Summons and Subpoenas

Modern legal systems have developed more nuanced and less coercive methods for ensuring defendants’ appearance in court. Summons and subpoenas serve similar purposes without the need for physical arrest, making the legal process more efficient and less disruptive.

Human Rights Considerations

The evolution of human rights has significantly influenced the decline of the writ. Arresting individuals for civil matters is now considered disproportionate and a potential violation of personal liberties. Legal reforms have thus moved towards protecting individual rights while ensuring compliance through less invasive means.

Procedural Reforms

Reforms in civil procedure have introduced mechanisms such as default judgments and financial penalties for non-compliance, reducing the reliance on arrest. These reforms provide effective deterrents against evasion without the need for physical custody.

Comparative Legal Systems

While the Writ of Capias ad Respondendum is largely obsolete in English law, its legacy can be seen in various forms across different legal systems:

United States

In the United States, the writ has evolved but remains in limited use, primarily in cases where other methods of securing attendance have failed. The modern equivalent often involves warrants for arrest in civil contempt cases, reflecting a continued, albeit reduced, reliance on physical custody to enforce court orders.

Other Common Law Jurisdictions

In other common law jurisdictions, the principles underlying the writ have been absorbed into broader legal frameworks. For instance, in Australia and Canada, the emphasis is on ensuring compliance through summonses and financial penalties rather than physical arrest.

Contemporary Relevance

Although the Writ of Capias ad Respondendum is no longer a central feature of contemporary legal practice, its historical role underscores several enduring principles of civil justice:


The writ exemplifies the principle of accountability in the legal system, ensuring that individuals cannot evade their legal responsibilities. This principle remains a cornerstone of civil justice, reflected in modern enforcement mechanisms.

Evolution of Legal Mechanisms

The transition from the writ to modern compliance methods illustrates the legal system’s capacity for adaptation and reform. It highlights how legal practices evolve to balance the needs for effective enforcement and protection of individual rights.

Legal History and Education

Understanding the Writ of Capias ad Respondendum provides valuable insights into the historical development of legal systems. For legal historians and scholars, it offers a case study in the evolution of civil procedure and the interplay between legal enforcement and personal liberty.


The Writ of Capias ad Respondendum, while now largely obsolete, represents a significant chapter in the history of English law. Its primary function was to ensure defendants’ appearance in court, safeguarding plaintiffs’ rights and maintaining the integrity of legal proceedings. Over time, the writ’s use has declined due to the development of more effective and less intrusive legal mechanisms, as well as a heightened emphasis on human rights and procedural fairness. Nonetheless, its legacy endures in the principles of accountability and the continuous evolution of civil justice systems.

Understanding the Writ of Capias ad Respondendum not only offers a window into the past but also sheds light on the ongoing balance between enforcing legal compliance and protecting individual liberties. As legal systems continue to evolve, the historical lessons embodied by the writ remain relevant, informing contemporary practices and future reforms.

Writ Of Capias Ad Respondendum FAQ'S

A Writ of Capias Ad Respondendum is a legal document issued by a court that commands the arrest of a defendant and requires them to appear before the court to answer a civil or criminal complaint.

This writ is typically used when a defendant fails to appear in court after being summoned or when there is a need to secure the defendant’s presence for a trial or hearing.

To obtain a Writ of Capias Ad Respondendum, the party seeking it must file a motion with the court, providing sufficient grounds for the issuance of the writ. The court will then review the motion and decide whether to grant it.

Once the writ is issued, it is delivered to law enforcement authorities who will execute the writ by arresting the defendant and bringing them before the court.

Yes, this writ can be used in both civil and criminal cases. It is commonly used in civil cases to compel the appearance of a defendant, and in criminal cases to secure the presence of a defendant who has failed to appear or violated the terms of their release.

Yes, a defendant can challenge the issuance of a Writ of Capias Ad Respondendum by filing a motion to quash the writ. The court will then review the motion and determine whether there are valid grounds to quash the writ.

If a defendant fails to appear after the issuance of the writ, they may be subject to additional penalties, such as fines, contempt of court charges, or even a warrant for their arrest.

No, a Writ of Capias Ad Respondendum is not typically used to collect a debt. It is primarily used to secure the presence of a defendant in court for legal proceedings.

The validity of a Writ of Capias Ad Respondendum varies depending on the jurisdiction and the specific circumstances of the case. Generally, it remains valid until the defendant is arrested and brought before the court.

No, a Writ of Capias Ad Respondendum is not issued against witnesses. It is specifically used to compel the appearance of a defendant who is a party to the case. Witnesses are typically summoned through a different legal process.

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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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