The Writ of Certiorari

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Introduction to Certiorari

Certiorari is a legal term that originates from a Latin word meaning ‘to be certified’ or ‘to be informed’. The writ of certiorari is issued by a higher court to quash an order already passed by inferior or subordinate courts, tribunals, and other public authorities. As per the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word certiorari is defined as “A writ of superior court to call up the records of an inferior court or a body acting in a quasi-judicial capacity.” The writ of certiorari is a legal mechanism that allows higher courts to review decisions made by lower courts or administrative bodies directing them to transfer the record of a particular case. In other words,  this writ can be issued against the statutory bodies exercising judicial or quasi-judicial powers. The primary purpose of this writ is to determine whether the lower court or administrative body has correctly applied the law. In the realm of Indian legal proceedings, the writ of certiorari has its roots in English common law that dates back to medieval England and has evolved over centuries. Now, let us understand the historical evolution of the writ of certiorari in India. 

Historical Evolution

The Writ of Certiorari was initially introduced as a part of the prerogative writs to ensure that the King’s bench had supervisory control over the decisions of inferior courts. It was introduced in the English legal system as a means to control the jurisdiction of lower courts. In the 19th Century, as English legal principles were transplanted to India, the writ of certiorari became an integral part of the Indian legal system. The High Courts, established in various regions, were empowered to issue this writ to correct errors of jurisdiction or law. Further, the Government of India Act 1935 granted expanded powers to the Federal Court and the High Courts, authorizing them to issue certiorari to enforce fundamental rights and to review decisions of inferior courts. After India gained independence in 1947, the legal framework underwent significant changes. The Supreme Court’s authority to grant certiorari allows it to select cases of national importance or cases where lower courts have reached conflicting decisions. This power has been crucial in shaping legal precedents and ensuring uniformity in interpreting and applying federal law.  

Who can apply for the Writ of Certiorari?

The writ of certiorari can be applied by the parties aggrieved by a decision of a lower court or any other administrative body. The one who seeks the writ must demonstrate that they have a direct and substantial interest in the case and that they have exhausted all available remedies within the lower courts before seeking review of a higher court. 

Grounds for Seeking Certiorari

Certain conditions must be met for a higher court to issue a writ of certiorari which are mentioned as follows:

  • Jurisdictional Error: Certiorari may be sought when there are doubts about the jurisdiction of the lower courts, meaning they exceeded their legal authority or failed to exercise it when they should have.
  • Error of Law: If there is an alleged error of law in the judgment of the lower court, such as incorrectly interpreted or applied the law, resulting in an unjust or erroneous decision, that could have significant consequences then a party may seek this writ to correct that error.
  • Substantial Question of Law: Must involve a substantial question of law such as the interpretation of a constitutional provision, that requires resolution or clarification by the higher court.
  • Conflicting Decisions: If different lower courts have issued conflicting decisions on a legal issue, certiorari might be sought to resolve the inconsistency and establish a uniform interpretation of the law.
  • Violation of Natural Justice: If the petitioner alleges that the principle of natural justice is violated during the lower court proceedings or there is a failure of justice due to the presence of elements such as corruption, fraud, or collision then the writ of certiorari can be sought.
  • Judicial Review: If there is a belief that the lower court failed to review or control an administrative body’s decision adequately then certiorari can be caught to challenge administrative decisions or actions.

The Application Process

The procedure to file a writ of certiorari in India is similar to filing any writ petition which means, this writ can be filed either in the Supreme Court under Article 32 or in the High Court under Article 226 of the Constitution of India. To file a writ of certiorari, there must be a violation of a person’s fundamental rights and the same should be filed within a reasonable time after the violation of an individual’s right. In India, the application process for a writ of certiorari involves several steps which are as follows:

  • The party seeking the writ initiates the process by filing a Special Leave Petition (SLP) in the Supreme Court. The SLP serves as the application for seeking permission to appeal.
  • The grounds on which the writ is sought should be clearly stated by the petitioner. 
  • If the SC is convinced that the case warrants special consideration, it grants special leave, and the SLP is converted into a petition for certiorari.
  • The petitioner then must prepare a comprehensive document outlining the facts of the case specifying the breach of his rights, legal arguments, and the reasons why the SC should exercise its discretion to issue the writ of certiorari.
  • A specific date will be prescribed by the court for hearing and both parties will appear before the Court and put forward their arguments. Further, the judgment is passed by the judge after hearing both sides.

Impact of Certiorari on Lower Court Decisions

Certiorari has a crucial impact on the decisions of the lower courts. When a higher court such as the Supreme Court grants certiorari, it agrees to review a lower court’s decision. This review can have several outcomes. First, the higher court may affirm the lower court’s decision, thereby upholding it and allowing it to stand. Second, the higher court may reverse the lower court’s decision, essentially overturning it and issuing a new ruling. Third, the higher court may remand the case back to the lower court for further proceedings or reconsiderations. Overall, the impact of certiorari is that it provides a mechanism for higher courts to exert their authority, correct errors, establish legal precedents, and ensure consistency in the interpretation and application of the law.

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To conclude, the writ of certiorari enables the higher courts to quash the decisions or orders of the lower courts or administrative bodies when they violate the principle of natural justice, make an error of law, or give conflicting decisions. By allowing the review of jurisdictional errors and errors of law, this writ upholds the principles of justice and ensures the proper interpretation and application of the law.

1. What do you mean by the writ of certiorari?
2. Against whom the Writ of Certiorari cannot lie?