Define: Writ Of Certiorari

Writ Of Certiorari
Writ Of Certiorari
Quick Summary of Writ Of Certiorari

A writ of certiorari is an exceptional legal order that permits a higher court to examine a case from a lower court. The term “certiorari” originates from Latin and signifies “to be more fully informed.” The U.S. Supreme Court utilises this writ to choose the majority of the cases it considers. It mandates the lower court to present its case records for review by the higher court. This writ is infrequently employed and can be modified by legislation or court regulations.

What is the dictionary definition of Writ Of Certiorari?
Dictionary Definition of Writ Of Certiorari

The writ of certiorari is a legal directive issued by a higher court to a lower court, requesting the lower court to send up the records of a case for review. The term “certiorari” is derived from Latin and means “to be informed.” Its primary purpose is to determine whether a lower court has made an error of law that requires correction by a higher court. The United States Supreme Court commonly employs this writ to select cases it hears, but only a small percentage of petitions are granted certiorari. The court uses the writ to review cases that involve significant legal questions or conflicts between lower courts. For instance, if a state court of appeals makes a decision that conflicts with another state court of appeals, the Supreme Court may issue a writ of certiorari to resolve the conflict and establish a uniform rule of law. Similarly, if a federal court of appeals makes a decision that conflicts with a state supreme court’s decision, the Supreme Court may issue a writ of certiorari to determine which court’s decision should prevail. In summary, a writ of certiorari is a legal order that enables a higher court to review the decision of a lower court, correct errors of law, resolve conflicts between lower courts, and establish uniform rules of law.

Full Definition Of Writ Of Certiorari

A writ of certiorari is a legal instrument that plays a crucial role in the judicial review process within various legal systems. It is a procedural tool primarily used to bring a case from a lower court to a higher court for review. This document provides an in-depth analysis of the writ of certiorari, focusing on its application within the legal framework of the United Kingdom and its relevance in the context of the British legal system.

Historical Background

The writ of certiorari has its origins in English common law. It was initially developed as a means for the sovereign to keep inferior courts in check, ensuring they acted within their jurisdiction. Historically, it was a command from the sovereign to the lower courts to send the records of a case for review. Over time, this writ evolved to become a fundamental aspect of judicial review, particularly within the realm of administrative law.

Definition and Purpose

A writ of certiorari is a court order directing a lower court or tribunal to send the record of a proceeding for review by a higher court. Its primary purpose is to ensure that decisions are made according to law, free from jurisdictional errors, and in compliance with procedural fairness. In the UK, certiorari is often used interchangeably with “quashing orders,” especially in the context of judicial review.

Legal Framework in the United Kingdom

In the UK, the writ of certiorari is encapsulated within the broader context of judicial review, governed by the Administrative Court. Judicial review is a process whereby the courts supervise the exercise of public power, ensuring that decisions made by public bodies are lawful, rational, and procedurally fair.

Statutory Basis

The statutory basis for judicial review, including certiorari, is found in the Senior Courts Act 1981, particularly under section 31, which outlines the scope and application of judicial review remedies. The Civil Procedure Rules (CPR), particularly Part 54, provide the procedural rules governing applications for judicial review.

The Grounds for Certiorari

The grounds for seeking a writ of certiorari include:

  1. Illegality: When a decision-maker acts outside the scope of their legal authority.
  2. Irrationality: Decisions that are so unreasonable that no reasonable authority would ever consider them.
  3. Procedural Impropriety: Failures in the procedure that result in unfairness, such as bias or denial of natural justice.

Application Process

The application for a writ of certiorari follows a specific procedural framework:

  1. Permission Stage: The applicant must first obtain permission from the court to proceed with the application. This is to filter out unmeritorious claims.
  2. Substantive Hearing: If permission is granted, the case proceeds to a substantive hearing, where the court examines the merits of the application.
  3. Granting the Writ: If the court finds in favour of the applicant, it will issue a writ of certiorari, quashing the decision of the lower court or tribunal.

Case Law and Precedents

Several landmark cases have shaped the understanding and application of the writ of certiorari in the UK:

  • R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Bentley [1994] QB 349: This case highlighted the importance of procedural fairness in administrative decisions.
  • R v Hull University Visitor, ex parte Page [1993] AC 682: The House of Lords clarified the grounds for certiorari, particularly focusing on jurisdictional errors.

Comparative Analysis

The writ of certiorari, while rooted in English common law, has influenced various legal systems worldwide, particularly those within the Commonwealth. For instance:

  • United States: The writ of certiorari is prominently used by the Supreme Court to review decisions from lower federal courts and state courts.
  • India: Indian law incorporates the writ of certiorari within its constitutional framework, allowing the Supreme Court and High Courts to review lower court decisions.

Practical Implications

The writ of certiorari serves several critical functions within the legal system:

  1. Ensuring Legal Accountability: It provides a mechanism for higher courts to oversee and correct errors made by lower courts and tribunals.
  2. Upholding the Rule of Law: By ensuring that decisions are made within the bounds of legal authority and according to fair procedures, certiorari upholds the rule of law.
  3. Protecting Individual Rights: It serves as a safeguard against administrative abuse and arbitrary decision-making, thereby protecting individual rights.

Challenges and Criticisms

Despite its significance, the writ of certiorari faces several challenges:

  1. Accessibility: The complexity and costs associated with applying for judicial review can be prohibitive for many individuals.
  2. Judicial Overreach: There are concerns about the extent to which courts should intervene in administrative decisions, potentially encroaching on the domain of executive authorities.

Reforms and Future Directions

The landscape of judicial review, including the use of certiorari, continues to evolve. Recent reforms and proposals aim to address some of the challenges:

  1. Streamlining Procedures: Efforts are being made to simplify the procedural aspects of judicial review to make it more accessible.
  2. Balancing Powers: Ongoing debates focus on finding the right balance between judicial oversight and administrative autonomy.


The writ of certiorari remains a cornerstone of judicial review in the UK, ensuring that public authorities act within their legal boundaries and adhere to principles of fairness. Its role in maintaining the rule of law and protecting individual rights underscores its enduring importance within the British legal system. As legal systems continue to evolve, the principles underlying certiorari will likely adapt to new challenges, ensuring its relevance in promoting justice and accountability.

Writ Of Certiorari FAQ'S

A writ of certiorari is a legal order issued by a higher court, typically an appellate court, to review the decision of a lower court. It is a discretionary process that allows the higher court to decide whether or not to hear the case.

To file a writ of certiorari, you need to submit a petition to the higher court that has the authority to grant the writ. The petition should include a statement of the case, the legal issues involved, and the reasons why the higher court should review the lower court’s decision.

The purpose of a writ of certiorari is to ensure uniformity and consistency in the interpretation and application of the law. It allows the higher court to review lower court decisions that may have significant legal implications or involve important legal questions.

You should file a writ of certiorari within the specified time limit set by the applicable jurisdiction. This time limit varies depending on the court and jurisdiction, so it is important to consult the relevant rules and regulations or seek legal advice to ensure timely filing.

The grounds for granting a writ of certiorari typically include situations where there is a conflict between lower court decisions, a lower court has made an error of law, or the case involves a significant legal question that needs clarification.

In most cases, the denial of a writ of certiorari is not appealable. The decision to grant or deny a writ of certiorari is within the discretion of the higher court, and they are not required to provide a reason for their decision.

The time it takes for a writ of certiorari to be granted varies depending on the court and the complexity of the case. It can range from a few weeks to several months or even longer.

If a writ of certiorari is granted, it means that the higher court has agreed to review the lower court’s decision. The parties involved will have an opportunity to present their arguments and evidence before the higher court, which will then make a final decision on the case.

Yes, you can file a writ of certiorari in a state court. However, the availability and procedures for filing a writ of certiorari may vary depending on the state’s laws and rules of procedure.

Yes, you have the right to represent yourself in a writ of certiorari proceeding. However, it is highly recommended to seek legal representation, as the process can be complex and technical. An experienced attorney can help navigate the legal requirements and present your case effectively.

Related Phrases
No related content found.

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.

Cite Term

To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

  • Page URL:
  • Modern Language Association (MLA):Writ Of Certiorari. DLS Solicitors. June 20 2024
  • Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):Writ Of Certiorari. DLS Solicitors. (accessed: June 20 2024).
  • American Psychological Association (APA):Writ Of Certiorari. Retrieved June 20 2024, from website:
Avatar of DLS Solicitors
DLS Solicitors : Family Law Solicitors

Our team of professionals are based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire. We offer clear, specialist legal advice in all matters relating to Family Law, Wills, Trusts, Probate, Lasting Power of Attorney and Court of Protection.

All author posts