Define: Writ Of Coram Vobis

Writ Of Coram Vobis
Writ Of Coram Vobis
Quick Summary of Writ Of Coram Vobis

A writ of coram vobis, derived from the Latin phrase “before you,” is a legal term used to refer to a type of writ of error that is used to review a court’s judgement. There are two main types of writs of coram vobis: one directed to a court other than the King’s Bench, particularly the Court of Common Pleas, to review its judgement and correct errors in the court process, and another sent by an appellate court to a trial court to review the trial court’s judgement based on an error of fact. For example, if a person believes that the Court of Common Pleas made an error in their case, they may file a writ of coram vobis to have the court’s judgement reviewed. Similarly, if an appellate court believes that a trial court made an error of fact in a case, they may send a writ of coram vobis to the trial court to review the judgement.

What is the dictionary definition of Writ Of Coram Vobis?
Dictionary Definition of Writ Of Coram Vobis

The writ of coram vobis is a legal instrument that requests a court to reexamine its own ruling or verdict. It is used in cases where the court or its clerks have made errors, or when there are inaccuracies in the evidence presented during a trial. This writ can be directed to a court other than the King’s Bench, such as the Court of Common Pleas. It is also occasionally referred to as a writ of error, or coram vobis.

Full Definition Of Writ Of Coram Vobis

A writ of coram vobis, or coram nobis, is a legal mechanism used to correct errors of fact in a court’s judgment which were unknown at the time of judgment and would have prevented the judgment from being issued. The term originates from Latin, with “coram vobis” meaning “before you” (referring to the court). This writ is historically significant in common law jurisdictions, including England, and continues to hold relevance in modern legal systems, albeit in a more restricted form.

Historical Background

The writ of coram vobis finds its roots in English common law, where it was employed as a method to challenge and rectify judicial errors. Historically, this writ was issued by a higher court to review the decision of a lower court, ensuring that justice was served when new facts came to light after a judgment was rendered. This writ was particularly pertinent in cases where the facts in question could not have been reasonably discovered earlier and were significant enough to alter the outcome of the case.

Purpose and Scope

The primary purpose of a writ of coram vobis is to correct fundamental errors of fact that affect the validity of a judgment. These errors are typically those that were not apparent or could not have been reasonably discovered at the time of the original trial. The writ is not intended to address errors of law, which are the purview of appeals and other judicial reviews.

Examples of factual errors that might be addressed by a writ of coram vobis include:

  • Discovery of new evidence that was not available during the trial.
  • Instances where a party was under a legal disability (e.g., minor or mentally incapacitated) and this was not known.
  • Fraudulent actions that prevented a fair trial.
  • Clerical errors that led to a significant misjudgment.

Legal Framework in the United Kingdom

In the UK, the writ of coram vobis has been largely supplanted by modern statutory remedies and procedural rules. However, understanding its principles is crucial as it lays the foundation for certain aspects of the current legal system.

The Evolution of the Writ

The Judicature Acts of the late 19th century streamlined and reformed the English legal system, merging the courts of law and equity. This consolidation led to the development of more structured procedural rules, diminishing the practical necessity of ancient writs like coram vobis. Today, issues that would have been addressed by coram vobis are typically handled through appeals, judicial reviews, or motions to set aside a judgment.

Modern Equivalents

In modern English law, the principles underlying the writ of coram vobis are reflected in:

  1. Applications to Set Aside a Judgment: Under the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR), particularly Rule 39.3, a party can apply to have a judgment set aside if they did not attend the trial and can demonstrate that there is a good reason for their absence and that they have a real prospect of successfully defending the claim.
  2. Appeals: The Court of Appeal can review decisions based on new evidence that was not available during the original trial. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) plays a similar role in criminal cases, investigating potential miscarriages of justice.
  3. Judicial Review: Although primarily concerned with the legality of decisions, judicial review can address significant procedural errors that might equate to the factual errors contemplated by coram vobis.

Procedural Aspects

The process for invoking a writ of coram vobis traditionally involved several key steps:

  1. Petition: The aggrieved party would file a petition outlining the facts that were unknown at the time of judgment and how they would have altered the outcome.
  2. Review: The court would review the petition to determine if the new facts were indeed unknown and material to the case.
  3. Hearing: If the petition was accepted, a hearing would be scheduled where both parties could present arguments regarding the new evidence.
  4. Decision: The court would decide whether to amend or annul the original judgment based on the newfound facts.

In contemporary practice, these steps are mirrored in applications to set aside judgments or in appeals based on new evidence.

Comparative Analysis

United States

In the United States, the writ of coram nobis retains more practical relevance, particularly in federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognised its use to correct errors of fact in both criminal and civil cases. The writ is often employed in cases where new evidence emerges that significantly impacts the validity of a conviction, particularly when the defendant has already served their sentence and can no longer pursue standard post-conviction relief.

Key cases such as United States v. Morgan (1954) have established that coram nobis can be used to address fundamental errors of fact that render a judgment invalid. The U.S. courts have outlined specific criteria for granting coram nobis relief, including the necessity for the petitioner to demonstrate that no other remedy is available, and the error in question is of such a nature that it would have prevented the original judgment.

Canada and Australia

In Canada and Australia, the writ of coram vobis is largely obsolete, similar to the UK. Both jurisdictions have developed comprehensive appellate and post-conviction review mechanisms that serve the purpose of correcting judicial errors. In Canada, for example, Section 696.1 of the Criminal Code allows individuals to apply for a review of their conviction if new evidence arises, similar to the function of coram vobis.

Case Law

UK Case Law

While the writ itself is rarely invoked in modern UK law, historical cases provide insight into its application:

  • R v Gunning (1875) is an example where the court addressed an error of fact that came to light post-judgment. The decision underscored the importance of ensuring that judgments are based on complete and accurate information.

US Case Law

In the US, significant cases include:

  • United States v. Morgan: This landmark case set the precedent for using coram nobis to vacate a conviction when new evidence demonstrates a fundamental error.
  • Hirabayashi v. United States: This case involved the wrongful conviction of Japanese-Americans during World War II. The writ of coram nobis was used decades later to overturn the conviction based on newly discovered evidence of governmental misconduct.

Criticisms and Limitations

Despite its utility, the writ of coram vobis has faced criticisms and limitations:

  1. Narrow Scope: The writ is limited to errors of fact, excluding errors of law which are often more prevalent in judicial proceedings.
  2. Availability: Modern legal systems provide numerous avenues for redress, making the writ redundant in many cases.
  3. Complexity: The procedural requirements for coram vobis can be complex, deterring its use in favour of more straightforward remedies.

Conclusion

The writ of coram vobis represents an important historical mechanism for correcting judicial errors of fact. Although largely obsolete in the UK, its principles continue to influence modern legal remedies for addressing factual inaccuracies in judgments. Understanding the writ’s historical context and its evolution provides valuable insights into the development of contemporary legal systems and the enduring quest for justice.

In modern practice, the functions of the writ are largely absorbed by appeals, applications to set aside judgments, and judicial reviews. These mechanisms ensure that courts maintain accuracy and fairness in their judgments, aligning with the underlying principles of coram vobis. As legal systems continue to evolve, the legacy of the writ remains a testament to the enduring importance of correcting judicial errors and upholding the integrity of the judicial process.

Writ Of Coram Vobis FAQ'S

A Writ of Coram Vobis is a legal remedy that allows a court to review and potentially correct a previous judgement or order that was made due to a mistake or error.

You can file a Writ of Coram Vobis when you believe there has been a fundamental error in a previous judgement or order that has resulted in a miscarriage of justice.

The grounds for filing a Writ of Coram Vobis include newly discovered evidence, fraud, mistake, or any other circumstances that would render the previous judgement or order unjust.

To file a Writ of Coram Vobis, you need to prepare a written application or petition and submit it to the appropriate court. It is advisable to seek legal assistance to ensure the proper procedure is followed.

Yes, there is usually a time limit for filing a Writ of Coram Vobis. The specific time limit may vary depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the case. Consult with an attorney to determine the applicable deadline.

No, a Writ of Coram Vobis is typically used to challenge final judgements or orders. It may not be applicable to interlocutory or procedural rulings.

To succeed in a Writ of Coram Vobis, you generally need to demonstrate that there is clear and convincing evidence of a fundamental error that has resulted in a miscarriage of justice.

No, a Writ of Coram Vobis is not an appeal. It is a separate legal remedy that seeks to correct errors in a previous judgement or order.

If a Writ of Coram Vobis is successful, the court may vacate or modify the previous judgment or order, leading to a new trial or a different outcome.

While it is possible to represent yourself in a Writ of Coram Vobis proceeding, it is highly recommended to seek the assistance of an experienced attorney. The process can be complex, and legal expertise can greatly increase your chances of success.

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Disclaimer

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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