The Supreme Court (under Article 32) and the high courts (under Article226) can issue the writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, prohibition, certiorari and quo-warranto. Further, the Parliament (under Article 32) can empower any other court to issue these writs. Since no such provision has been made so far, only the Supreme Court and the high courts can issue the writs and not any other court. Before 1950, only the High Courts of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras had the power to issue the writs. Article 226 now empowers all the high courts to issue the writs.
These writs are borrowed from English law where they are known as ‘prerogative writs’. They are so called in England as they were issued in the exercise of the prerogative of the King who was, and is still, described as the ‘fountain of justice’. Later, the high court started issuing these writs as extraordinary remedies to uphold the rights and liberties of the British people.
The writ jurisdiction of the Supreme Court differs from that of a high court in three respects:
Now, we will proceed to understand the meaning and scope of different kinds of writs mentioned in Articles 32 and 226 of the Constitution:
It is a Latin term which literally means ‘to have the body of. It is an order issued by the court to a person who has detained another person, to produce the body of the latter before it. The court then examines the cause and legality of detention. It would set the detained person free, if the detention is found to be illegal. Thus, this writ is a bulwark of individual liberty against arbitrary detention.
The writ of habeas corpus can be issued against both public authorities as well as private individuals. The writ, on the other hand, is not issued where the (a) detention is lawful, (b) the proceeding is for contempt of a legislature or a court, (c) detention is by a competent court, and (d) detention is outside the jurisdiction of the court.
It literally means ‘we command’. It is a command issued by the court to a public official asking him to perform his official duties that he has failed or refused to perform. It can also be issued against any public body, a corporation, an inferior court, a tribunal or government for the same purpose.
The writ of mandamus cannot be issued (a) against a private individual or body; (b) to enforce departmental instruction that does not possess statutory force; (c) when the duty is discretionary and not mandatory; (d) to enforce a contractual obligation; (e) against the president of India or the state governors; and (f) against the chief justice of a high court acting in judicial capacity.
Literally, it means ‘to forbid’. It is issued by a higher court to a lower court or tribunal to prevent the latter from exceeding its jurisdiction or usurping a jurisdiction that it does not possess. Thus, unlike mandamus that directs activity, the prohibition directs inactivity.
The writ of prohibition can be issued only against judicial and quasijudicial authorities. It is not available against administrative authorities, legislative bodies, and private individuals or bodies.
In the literal sense, it means ‘to be certified’ or ‘to be informed’. It is issued by a higher court to a lower court or tribunal either to transfer a case pending with the latter to itself or to squash the order of the latter in a case. It is issued on the grounds of excess of jurisdiction or lack of jurisdiction or error of law. Thus, unlike prohibition, which is only preventive, certiorari is both preventive as well as curative.
Previously, the writ of certiorari could be issued only against judicial and quasi-judicial authorities and not against administrative authories. However, in 1991, the Supreme Court ruled that the certiorari can be issued even against administrative authorities affecting rights of individuals.
Like prohibition, certiorari is also not available against legislative bodies and private individuals or bodies.
In the literal sense, it means ‘by what authority or warrant’. It is issued by the court to enquire into the legality of claim of a person to a public office. Hence, it prevents illegal usurpation of public office by a person.
The writ can be issued only in case of a substantive public office of a permanent character created by a statute or by the Constitution. It cannot be issued in cases of ministerial office or private office.
Unlike the other four writs, this can be sought by any interested person and not necessarily by the aggrieved person.