The term ‘writ’ is derived from an Anglo-Saxon term ‘gewrit’ equal to, Latin ‘breve’. It is an order in writing, issued by the English monarch to a specified person to undertake a specified action; for example, in the feudal era a military summons by the king to one of his tenants-in-chief to appear dressed for battle with retinue at a certain place and time. In modern usage it is issued by an administrative authority vested with judicial jurisdiction.
The other terminologies used in regular judicial activities like warrant, prerogative writs, and subpoenas are common types of writs. A warrant is a document issued by a legal or government official authorizing the police or another body to make an arrest of person, search premises, or carry out some other action relating to the administration of justice. Where a person is required to give evidence before a court of law then an order called ‘subpoena’. A subpoena is a direction requiring the addressee to appear in court as a witness. If a person gets a subpoena, it doesn't mean he has done anything wrong; it just means that he knows some information needed by the court. If he fails to appear he will be in trouble. In simple words, subpoena is summons issued to a witness by court in the normal course.
The writ process and its improvement has been an exceptional development of the Anglo-Saxon monarchy, which included a concise administrative order under seal. Earlier even land grant rules were called a kind of writ as it contained conditions of grant. Writs applied to claims that were heard in the High Court of Justice. The procedure in a County Court was authorized to issue a 'summons'. The legal reforms unified most of the procedure of the Court and brought in the Civil Procedure Rules, by which almost all civil actions.
The "prerogative" writ is a class of writs. The other writs were termed as writ of habeas corpus, quo warranto, prohibito, mandamus, procedendo, and certiorari.
The due practice for writs is neither civil nor criminal, as it includes the presumption of non-authority, to compel the official who is arrayed as the respondent should prove his authority to do or not do something impugned, otherwise the court would decide in favour of the petitioner. The petitioner may be any person and need not be an interested party. On this point the writ process differs from a motion in a civil suit where the burden of proof is on the petitioner having interest in the subject under challenge and shows his locus standi to maintain the suit.
Writs in India
There is a difference in the practice of issue of writs between Indian system and that of UK, US and other countries in as much as in other countries an administrative authority; for them it is an simple order in writing issued by an authority vested or coupled with judicial power. Whereas in India jurisdiction to issue 'prerogative writs' is given to the Supreme Court, and to the High Courts of Judicature of all Indian states. The Constitution of India specifies the law relating to writs. The Supreme Court may issue writs under Article 32 of the Constitution for enforcement of Fundamental Rights and under Articles 139 for enforcement of rights other than Fundamental Rights. The High Courts, may issue writs under Articles 226. In case of other countries the term writ is commonly used for every order. An order is a direction as understood in common parlance while writ in India has a Constitutional sanctity. Writ is a command of the Supreme Court or High Court, which is greater in force and effect compared to any other order or decision passed by the same court in other matters. Thus a writ is a commandment of the Supreme Court or High Court is a Commandment, if not ‘Ten Commandments’.