Define: Writ Of Error

Writ Of Error
Writ Of Error
Quick Summary of Writ Of Error

A writ of error is a document issued by an appellate court, demanding that a lower court send the case record for review. The purpose of this review is to identify any errors of law that may have occurred during the legal proceedings. For instance, if a person is convicted of a crime and believes that the judge made a mistake during the trial, they can file a writ of error. The appellate court will then assess the case to determine if any errors of law affected the trial’s outcome. In civil cases, the writ of error has been abolished by Rule 60 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. However, in criminal cases, the writ of error is still available but rarely utilised. Instead, a post-conviction remedy known as 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is commonly used. In summary, a writ of error is a legal document enabling a higher court to review the legal proceedings of a lower court and identify any errors of law.

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

A higher court can issue a writ of error to a lower court, requesting a review of the case records to identify any errors made during the trial. The purpose of this is to ensure that the law was properly adhered to. While this writ has been replaced by other legal regulations in civil cases, a distinct legal procedure is employed in criminal cases.

Full Definition Of Writ Of Error

A writ of error is a legal instrument traditionally employed to review the judgment of a lower court. This overview delves into the historical context, procedural aspects, and current relevance of writs of error in British law. By examining its evolution, application, and the distinctions between this and other appellate mechanisms, we gain a comprehensive understanding of its role in the judicial system.

Historical Context

The writ of error has roots in English common law, dating back to medieval times. Originally, it served as a means for higher courts, such as the Court of King’s Bench, to supervise lower courts and ensure the correct application of law. This mechanism was pivotal in establishing a hierarchical judicial structure, reinforcing the principle that legal errors at the trial level should be rectifiable.

In the early centuries, writs of error were primarily focused on errors in law rather than errors in fact. This distinction is crucial; errors in law pertain to misapplications or misunderstandings of legal principles, while errors in fact relate to incorrect findings regarding the facts of the case. The writ of error allowed for a more focused and specific review, as higher courts did not re-examine evidence but assessed the legal interpretations made by lower courts.

Procedural Aspects


The process of obtaining a writ of error begins with the aggrieved party, typically the losing side in a trial, filing a petition. Historically, this petition was submitted to a higher court, which would then decide whether to issue the writ. If granted, the writ commanded the lower court to forward the case record to the appellate court for review.

Record Review

Upon issuance, the record of the case, including all relevant documents, proceedings, and judgments, is transmitted to the higher court. The reviewing court scrutinizes this record to identify any legal errors. The scope of review is limited strictly to the matters raised in the writ, focusing on legal interpretations rather than factual disputes.


If the appellate court finds that a legal error has occurred, it can reverse or modify the lower court’s judgment. However, if no significant legal error is identified, the original judgment is upheld. The decision of the appellate court is final in the context of the writ of error process.

Evolution and Reform

Over time, the writ of error has undergone significant changes. In England, the development of more modern appellate procedures, such as the appeal system, has largely supplanted the traditional writ of error. The establishment of the Court of Appeal in 1875 and the subsequent judicial reforms diminished the reliance on writs of error.

The Judicature Acts of 1873-1875 played a pivotal role in this transformation, integrating various courts into the Supreme Court of Judicature and streamlining appellate procedures. These reforms aimed to simplify the legal process, reduce delays, and provide clearer pathways for appealing lower court decisions.

Comparison with Appeals

It is essential to distinguish between writs of error and appeals, as they serve similar yet distinct functions. An appeal is a more comprehensive review process that allows the appellate court to consider both legal and factual errors. In contrast, a writ of error is confined to legal errors alone.


  1. Scope: Appeals address both factual and legal issues.
  2. Procedure: Involves a rehearing where new evidence may be introduced.
  3. Outcome: This can result in a complete retrial or a direct modification of the lower court’s decision.

Writ of Error

  1. Scope: Limited to errors in law.
  2. Procedure: Review the case record without new evidence.
  3. Outcome: Primarily results in affirmation or reversal of the lower court’s decision based on legal interpretations.

Current Relevance in British Law

While the writ of error has largely fallen out of use in modern British law, understanding its historical significance remains crucial. Contemporary appellate procedures have absorbed many of its functions, providing more efficient and flexible means of reviewing lower court decisions.

However, the principles underlying the writ of error continue to influence modern legal practices. The focus on correcting legal misinterpretations persists in the appellate court’s mandate, ensuring that justice is administered correctly and consistently.

Case Law

Several landmark cases have shaped the application and interpretation of writs of error. For instance:

  1. R v. Kent Justices (1669): This case clarified that a writ of error could be issued only for errors of law apparent on the record, not for procedural irregularities or factual disputes.
  2. The Mayor of London v. Cox (1867): This decision underscored the appellate court’s limited scope in reviewing cases via writ of error, emphasizing that factual determinations made by lower courts are beyond the purview of the writ.

These cases illustrate the judiciary’s efforts to delineate the boundaries of writs of error, reinforcing their role in addressing legal, rather than factual, mistakes.

Comparative Analysis

A comparative analysis with other common law jurisdictions, such as the United States, reveals interesting contrasts in the evolution of the writ of error. In the US, the writ of error remained a prominent appellate mechanism well into the 20th century. However, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, adopted in 1938, eventually replaced it with more streamlined appeal procedures.

In contrast, British law’s earlier shift towards comprehensive appellate systems demonstrates a proactive approach to legal reform. The UK’s emphasis on procedural efficiency and clarity helped shape a more accessible and responsive judiciary, reducing the complexities associated with traditional writs of error.


The writ of error, while largely obsolete in contemporary British law, represents a significant historical mechanism for ensuring judicial oversight and correcting legal errors. Its evolution reflects broader trends in legal reform aimed at enhancing the efficiency and fairness of the judicial process. Understanding the writ of error’s role and development provides valuable insights into the principles guiding appellate review and the ongoing quest for justice in the legal system.

Writ Of Error FAQ'S

A Writ of Error is a legal document that allows a party to appeal a decision made by a lower court to a higher court. It is typically used when there is an alleged error in the application of the law during the trial.

To file a Writ of Error, you need to prepare a written document outlining the alleged errors made by the lower court. This document, along with any supporting evidence, should be filed with the appropriate higher court within the specified time frame.

The time limit for filing a Writ of Error varies depending on the jurisdiction and the type of case. It is crucial to consult with an attorney or refer to the specific rules of the court to determine the applicable time limit.

No, a Writ of Error is generally limited to cases involving errors of law. It cannot be used to challenge factual findings made by the lower court or to introduce new evidence.

After filing a Writ of Error, the higher court will review the document and any supporting evidence. They will then decide whether to grant or deny the appeal. If the appeal is granted, the higher court will review the lower court’s decision and determine if any errors were made.

Yes, you have the right to represent yourself in a Writ of Error proceeding. However, it is highly recommended to seek legal counsel, as the process can be complex and technical.

The possible outcomes of a Writ of Error include the higher court affirming the lower court’s decision, reversing the decision, or remanding the case back to the lower court for further proceedings.

In most cases, the decision made by the higher court after a Writ of Error proceeding is final. However, there may be limited circumstances where further appeals are possible, such as if there is a constitutional issue involved.

The time it takes for a Writ of Error to be resolved varies depending on the complexity of the case, the workload of the higher court, and other factors. It can range from several months to a few years.

Yes, you can request a stay of execution, which temporarily suspends the enforcement of the lower court’s decision, while the Writ of Error is pending. However, the granting of a stay is at the discretion of the higher court and is subject to certain conditions.

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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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