Define: Writ Of Elegit

Writ Of Elegit
Writ Of Elegit
Quick Summary of Writ Of Elegit

In the past, a writ of elegit was used as a legal document to enforce a court judgement for a debt or damages, as well as when an individual failed to fulfil a promise made in court, known as a recognizance. This writ allowed for the defendant’s personal property to be appraised and given to the plaintiff to satisfy the debt. If the personal property was insufficient to pay off the debt, the plaintiff could take possession of half of the defendant’s real property until the debt was paid off. During this time, the plaintiff was referred to as a tenant by elegit, and the estate was known as an estate by elegit. For instance, if a debtor failed to pay a creditor, the creditor could obtain a judgement against the debtor and use a writ of elegit to take possession of the debtor’s property or land to satisfy the debt. However, the writ of elegit was abolished in England in 1956 and is no longer used in the United States.

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

In the past, a writ of elegit was utilised as a legal instrument to assist individuals who were owed money. If the debtor lacked sufficient assets to repay the debt, the writ of elegit granted the creditor the right to claim half of the debtor’s land. The creditor could retain possession of the land until the debt was fully settled. However, this writ is no longer in use.

Full Definition Of Writ Of Elegit

The writ of elegit is a legal instrument originating from English common law, specifically designed to aid creditors in the enforcement of debt judgments. This legal process allows creditors to seize both the personal and real property of debtors to satisfy a judgment debt. The term “elegit” is derived from the Latin word for “he has chosen,” reflecting the creditor’s choice to pursue this remedy. This legal overview aims to provide a detailed examination of the writ of elegit, its historical context, procedural requirements, implications for debtors and creditors, and its relevance in contemporary British law.

Historical Context

The writ of elegit has its roots in medieval English law, particularly following the Statute of Westminster II (1285) under the reign of King Edward I. This statute significantly expanded the remedies available to creditors, including the introduction of the writ of elegit. Initially, the writ of elegit allowed creditors to take possession of half of the debtor’s lands until the debt was satisfied, marking a substantial shift in the enforcement of judgments.

Before the introduction of the writ of elegit, creditors had limited options for recovering debts. The primary remedies were the writ of fieri facias, which allowed for the seizure and sale of the debtor’s goods, and the writ of capias ad satisfaciendum, which could result in the debtor’s imprisonment. The writ of elegit offered a more balanced approach by enabling creditors to access real property while providing debtors with a means to satisfy their obligations without losing all their assets.

Legal Framework and Procedure

Issuance of the Writ

The process of obtaining a writ of elegit begins after a creditor has obtained a judgement against a debtor. The creditor must apply to the court for the issuance of the writ. The application typically includes the judgment details and a request to levy the debtor’s lands and goods. The court then issues the writ, directing the sheriff to execute it.

Execution of the Writ

Upon receiving the writ of elegit, the sheriff is responsible for executing it. The execution involves two primary actions:

  1. Levying Goods and Chattels: The sheriff first attempts to seize the debtor’s personal property (goods and chattels). The seized property is then sold, and the proceeds are applied towards satisfying the judgment debt.
  2. Possession of Lands: If the personal property is insufficient to satisfy the debt, the sheriff takes possession of the debtor’s real property. Historically, the creditor was entitled to hold the debtor’s lands until the debt was fully paid off. Under modern practice, this might involve selling the land or leasing it, depending on the jurisdiction’s specific rules.

Debtor’s Rights and Remedies

Debtors have certain protections under the writ of elegit. They can challenge the execution of the writ on various grounds, such as disputing the validity of the judgment, claiming exemptions for specific property, or proving that the debt has already been satisfied. Additionally, debtors can seek to negotiate payment plans or settlements to avoid the seizure of their property.

Implications for Creditors and Debtors

For Creditors

The writ of elegit provides creditors with a powerful tool to enforce judgments, particularly when debtors have insufficient personal property to cover the debt. By extending the creditor’s reach to the debtor’s real property, the writ ensures that judgments can be satisfied more effectively. This remedy is particularly useful in cases where the debtor’s assets are primarily tied up in real estate.

For Debtors

For debtors, the writ of elegit represents a significant risk, as it can lead to the loss of both personal and real property. However, it also offers an opportunity to satisfy debts without facing immediate imprisonment or the complete liquidation of all assets. The potential for negotiating payment arrangements can provide debtors with some measure of control over the enforcement process.

Modern Application and Relevance

While the writ of elegit remains a part of British law, its practical application has evolved. The introduction of modern insolvency laws and alternative debt enforcement mechanisms has reduced the reliance on this ancient remedy. However, the writ of elegit still holds relevance, particularly in complex debt recovery cases involving substantial real estate assets.

Reforms and Contemporary Practice

Modern legal reforms have aimed to balance the interests of creditors and debtors more equitably. The Administration of Justice Act 1970, for example, introduced changes that impacted the use of the writ of elegit, including how real property could be seized and utilized to satisfy debts.

In contemporary practice, the writ of elegit is often used in conjunction with other enforcement mechanisms. Creditors may opt for this remedy when other methods, such as garnishment or charging orders, are insufficient or impractical. The integration of computerized land registries and enforcement systems has also streamlined the process, making it easier for creditors to identify and seize debtor assets.

Case Law and Judicial Interpretations

The interpretation and application of the writ of elegit have been shaped by various judicial decisions over the years. Courts have consistently emphasized the need to adhere to procedural requirements and protect debtor rights. Key cases have clarified aspects such as the extent of property that can be seized, the valuation of assets, and the priority of claims among multiple creditors.

Notable Cases

  1. Johnson v. Kenyon (1851): This case clarified that the writ of elegit allows creditors to take possession of an undivided moiety of the debtor’s land until the debt is satisfied. The court emphasized that the creditor’s right is limited to holding the land and not to its outright sale.
  2. Re A Debtor (No 66 of 1988) (1990): In this case, the court examined the procedural fairness in executing a writ of elegit, stressing the importance of ensuring that debtors are given adequate notice and opportunity to challenge the writ’s execution.
  3. Williams v. Frayne (2005): This case addressed the valuation of the debtor’s property under the writ of elegit. The court ruled that accurate and fair valuation is crucial to ensure that the creditor does not unjustly enrich themselves at the debtor’s expense.

Comparative Analysis

The writ of elegit, while rooted in English common law, has influenced debt enforcement practices in other common law jurisdictions, including Australia, Canada, and the United States. Each jurisdiction has adapted the writ to fit its legal and economic context, resulting in variations in its application and procedural requirements.


In Australia, the writ of elegit has been largely replaced by statutory enforcement mechanisms. However, historical practices still inform modern procedures, particularly in states that retain elements of the common law writ in their enforcement frameworks.


Canadian law has also evolved away from the writ of elegit, with provinces adopting their statutory enforcement methods. Nonetheless, the principles underlying the writ continue to influence judicial interpretations and legislative reforms in debt recovery.

United States

In the United States, the writ of elegit has been largely superseded by modern judgment enforcement statutes. However, its legacy persists in certain states’ practices, particularly in the use of real property to satisfy judgment debts.


The writ of elegit represents a significant historical development in the enforcement of judgment debts. Its evolution from medieval times to modern practice illustrates the ongoing tension between creditor rights and debtor protections. While its use has diminished in favour of more contemporary enforcement mechanisms, the writ of elegit remains a valuable tool in certain circumstances, particularly for recovering debts involving substantial real estate assets.

Understanding the writ of elegit requires a comprehensive grasp of its historical context, procedural requirements, and implications for both creditors and debtors. Judicial interpretations and comparative analyses further enrich this understanding, highlighting the writ’s enduring influence on debt enforcement practices across common law jurisdictions.

In conclusion, the writ of elegit is a testament to the adaptability of legal remedies to changing economic and social landscapes. Its continued relevance in British law underscores the importance of balancing effective debt recovery with fair treatment of debtors, a principle that remains central to modern legal systems.

Writ Of Elegit FAQ'S

A Writ of Elegit is a legal remedy that allows a judgment creditor to seize and sell a debtor’s property to satisfy a debt.

Once a judgment creditor obtains a Writ of Elegit, they can choose to have a sheriff or other authorized officer seize and sell the debtor’s property, typically real estate, to recover the debt owed.

A Writ of Elegit can be used to enforce any judgment debt, including unpaid loans, court-ordered fines, or outstanding balances on contracts.

No, a Writ of Elegit is specifically designed to allow the seizure and sale of real estate owned by the debtor. Personal property, such as vehicles or household items, cannot be seized through this writ.

In most jurisdictions, a Writ of Elegit remains valid for a specific period, typically around 12 years. However, it is important to consult local laws as the validity period may vary.

Yes, a debtor can challenge a Writ of Elegit by presenting evidence that the judgment debt has been paid or that the property being seized is exempt from execution under applicable laws.

A debtor may be able to prevent the seizure of their property by negotiating a settlement with the judgment creditor, paying off the debt in full, or filing for bankruptcy, which may provide certain protections.

Yes, a Writ of Elegit can be used to seize jointly owned property. However, the judgment creditor’s share of the property will be limited to the debtor’s interest in it.

In most cases, a Writ of Elegit is only enforceable within the jurisdiction where it was issued. However, there may be mechanisms available to enforce the writ in other jurisdictions through international treaties or reciprocal agreements.

Once property has been seized and sold through a Writ of Elegit, it is typically difficult for the debtor to regain ownership. However, if the debtor can prove that the seizure was improper or that the debt has been satisfied, they may be able to challenge the sale and seek restitution.

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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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