Define: Writ Of Mandamus

Writ Of Mandamus
Writ Of Mandamus
Quick Summary of Writ Of Mandamus

A writ of mandamus is a legal order that a higher court issues to compel a lower court or government official to correctly perform a mandatory or ministerial duty. It is also referred to as a writ of mandamus, mandate, or order. For instance, if a citizen believes that a government official is not fulfiling their duties properly, they can submit a petition for a writ of mandamus. If the higher court agrees, it can issue the writ to compel the official to carry out their duties correctly. There are two types of writs of mandamus: Alternative mandamus, which requires the defendant to either perform the requested action or provide a valid reason for not doing so in court, and peremptory mandamus, which is an absolute and unconditional command for the defendant to perform the action in question. The peremptory mandamus is issued when the defendant fails to comply with or provide sufficient cause in response to an alternative mandamus. For example, if a citizen files a petition for a writ of mandamus to compel a government official to release public records, the court may initially issue an alternative mandamus. If the official still refuses to release the records, the court may then issue a peremptory mandamus to enforce compliance.

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

A writ is a legal directive from a higher court or government official to ensure the proper execution of their duties. Specifically, a writ of mandamus compels an individual to fulfil a mandatory or ministerial obligation. It can be likened to a supervisor instructing an employee to carry out their responsibilities correctly. There are two forms of mandamus: alternative mandamus, which allows the defendant to provide reasons for their failure to fulfil their duties, and peremptory mandamus, which is an unequivocal order to perform the task without any justifications.

Full Definition Of Writ Of Mandamus

A writ of mandamus is an extraordinary judicial remedy in British law, used to command a public authority or governmental body to perform a duty that is required by law. It is a form of judicial review intended to correct a failure in the performance of public duties. The writ is issued by a higher court to compel a lower court, tribunal, public authority, or governmental body to carry out a specific action mandated by law. This legal instrument ensures that public officials execute their duties correctly and that justice is administered effectively.

Historical Background

The writ of mandamus has its roots in English common law and has been part of the British legal system for centuries. It originated as a prerogative writ, meaning it was issued by the monarch at the request of a subject who had no other remedy available. Over time, it evolved into a judicial writ used by the courts to enforce the performance of public duties. The term “mandamus” is derived from the Latin word meaning “we command,” reflecting its authoritative nature.

Legal Basis and Jurisdiction

The legal basis for the writ of mandamus in the United Kingdom is primarily found in common law, with statutory frameworks providing additional guidance. In England and Wales, the jurisdiction to issue a writ of mandamus lies with the High Court. The Crown Office (now known as the Administrative Court) is typically responsible for handling such applications. In Scotland, the equivalent remedy is known as an order for specific performance or an order for declarator and reduction, and it is handled by the Court of Session.

Grounds for Issuance

A writ of mandamus can be issued on several grounds, including:

  1. Public Duty: The respondent must have a clear public duty to perform the act in question. This duty must be prescribed by law and not merely discretionary.
  2. Failure to Act: The respondent must have failed to perform the duty, either through refusal, neglect, or delay.
  3. No Adequate Alternative Remedy: The applicant must demonstrate that there is no other adequate remedy available. The writ of mandamus is considered a remedy of last resort.
  4. Legal Right: The applicant must have a legal right to the performance of the duty. This right must be clear and unequivocal.

Procedure for Applying for a Writ of Mandamus

The procedure for applying for a writ of mandamus involves several steps:

  1. Pre-action Protocol: Before filing an application, the applicant is generally required to follow a pre-action protocol, which involves sending a letter before a claim to the respondent, outlining the issues and proposed remedies. This provides an opportunity for the dispute to be resolved without litigation.
  2. Filing the Application: If the matter is not resolved, the applicant files a claim form and supporting documents with the Administrative Court. The claim form must include details of the duty in question, the respondent’s failure to perform it, and the relief sought.
  3. Permission Stage: The court will first consider whether to grant permission for the application to proceed. This involves a preliminary review of the merits of the case. If permission is granted, the matter proceeds to a full hearing.
  4. Substantive Hearing: At the substantive hearing, both parties present their arguments and evidence. The court then decides whether to issue the writ of mandamus.
  5. Relief and Enforcement: If the court grants the writ, it will issue an order directing the respondent to perform the specific duty. Failure to comply with the court’s order can result in contempt of court proceedings against the respondent.

Key Case Law

Several landmark cases have shaped the application of the writ of mandamus in British law. Some notable examples include:

  1. R v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Khawaja (1984): This case established that a writ of mandamus could be issued to correct unlawful detention by the Home Office. The court held that the detention of Mr. Khawaja was not in accordance with the law, and a writ of mandamus was issued to secure his release.
  2. R v. Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, ex parte Hook (1976): In this case, the court issued a writ of mandamus to compel the Barnsley Council to issue a market trading license to Mr. Hook, after it was found that the Council had acted unlawfully in revoking his license without due process.
  3. R v. Inland Revenue Commissioners, ex parte National Federation of Self-Employed and Small Businesses Ltd (1982): This case clarified that a writ of mandamus could be used to challenge decisions of public bodies that affect a large number of people, even if the applicant does not have a direct personal interest, provided there is sufficient public interest in the matter.

Limitations and Constraints

The writ of mandamus is not without limitations and constraints. These include:

  1. Discretionary Nature: The issuance of a writ of mandamus is discretionary. Courts are not obligated to grant the writ even if the legal requirements are met. They will consider factors such as the conduct of the applicant and the broader implications of issuing the writ.
  2. Non-Interference in Discretionary Decisions: Mandamus cannot be used to interfere with discretionary decisions of public authorities. It can only compel the performance of duties that are clearly defined and not subject to discretion.
  3. Adequate Alternative Remedies: If there is an adequate alternative remedy available, such as an appeal or judicial review, the court may refuse to issue a writ of mandamus.
  4. Timeliness: Applications for mandamus must be made promptly. Delay in seeking the writ can be a ground for refusal.

Comparative Perspective

The concept of mandamus is not unique to British law and exists in various forms in other legal systems. For instance, in the United States, writs of mandamus are issued by federal and state courts to compel public officials to perform mandatory duties. Similarly, in India, the writ of mandamus is enshrined in Article 226 of the Constitution, allowing the High Courts to issue directions to any government authority to perform its public duty.

Contemporary Relevance

In contemporary times, the writ of mandamus continues to play a crucial role in ensuring public accountability and the proper functioning of government bodies. It serves as an essential tool for individuals and organisations seeking to enforce the rule of law and prevent abuse of power by public authorities. With the increasing complexity of governmental functions and the expansion of administrative bodies, the writ of mandamus remains a vital mechanism for judicial oversight.

Recent Developments

Recent developments in the jurisprudence of mandamus reflect its evolving nature. Courts have increasingly emphasised the importance of maintaining a balance between judicial intervention and respecting the autonomy of public authorities. For example, recent cases have highlighted the need for courts to exercise restraint when dealing with complex policy decisions that require specialised expertise.


The writ of mandamus is a powerful judicial tool that upholds the principles of accountability and legality in public administration. It ensures that public authorities fulfil their legal duties and provides a remedy for individuals and organisations seeking to enforce their rights. While its application is subject to various limitations and constraints, the writ of mandamus remains an essential component of the British legal system. As governmental functions continue to expand and evolve, the role of mandamus in promoting good governance and the rule of law will remain indispensable.

Writ Of Mandamus FAQ'S

A writ of mandamus is a court order that compels a government official or lower court to perform a specific act that is required by law.

A writ of mandamus can be used when a government official or lower court has a clear legal duty to perform an act, but has refused to do so.

To file a writ of mandamus, you will need to submit a petition to the appropriate court outlining the specific act that the government official or lower court is required to perform.

A writ of mandamus compels a specific act to be performed, while an injunction prohibits a specific act from being performed.

Yes, a writ of mandamus can be used in both civil and criminal cases to compel a government official or lower court to perform a specific act.

If the court grants a writ of mandamus, the government official or lower court will be legally obligated to perform the act specified in the writ.

Yes, the decision to grant or deny a writ of mandamus can be appealed to a higher court.

There are limitations on when a writ of mandamus can be used, such as the act being requested must be a clear legal duty and there must not be any other adequate legal remedy available.

The timeline for a court to decide on a writ of mandamus can vary, but it is typically a relatively quick process compared to other legal proceedings.

Yes, you have the right to represent yourself in a writ of mandamus case, but it is recommended to seek legal counsel to ensure the best possible outcome.

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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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