A writ of prohibition is a writ directing a subordinate to stop doing something the law prohibits. In practice, the Court directs the Clerk to issue the Writ, and directs the Sheriff to serve it on the subordinate, and the Clerk prepares the Writ and gives it to the Sheriff, who serves it. This writ is normally issued by a superior court to the lower court asking it not to proceed with a case which does not fall under its jurisdiction.

These Writs are issued as "alternative" or "peremptory." An alternative Writ directs the recipient to immediately act, or desist, and "Show Cause" why the directive should not be made permanent. A peremptory Writ directs the recipient to immediately act, or desist, and "return" the Writ, with certification of its compliance, within a certain time.

When an agency of an official body is the target of the Writ of Prohibition, the Writ is directed to the official body over which the court has direct jurisdiction, ordering the official body to cause the agency to desist.

Although the rest of this article speaks to judicial processes, a writ of prohibition may be directed by any court of record (i.e., higher than a misdemeanor court) toward any official body, whether a court or a county, city or town government, that is within the court's jurisdiction.

In the United States

A "writ of prohibition", in the United States, is an official legal document drafted and issued by a supreme court, superior court or an appeals court to a judge presiding over a suit in an inferior court. The writ of prohibition mandates the inferior court to cease any action over the case because it may not fall within that inferior court's jurisdiction. The document is also issued at times when it is deemed that an inferior court is acting outside the normal rules and procedures in the examination of a case. In another instance, the document is issued at times when an inferior court is deemed headed towards defeating a legal right.

In criminal proceedings, a defendant who has been committed for trial may petition to the superior court for a writ of prohibition, in this case on the ground that his conduct, even if proven, does not constitute the offense charged.

Prohibition is more often used by appellate courts. Most often, these courts issue writs of prohibition to prevent lower courts from exceeding their jurisdiction. In some cases, this writ may also be used to prevent an inferior court from acting contrary to the rules of natural justice. The writ of prohibition may not be used to undo any previous acts, but only to prohibit acts not completed.

"Thus it was held that notwithstanding the right to an appeal, if the situation disclosed be such that to take the ordinary course by appeal would of itself subject the complainant to irreparable loss, the writ should issue notwithstanding no objection was made below; that the matter of judicial courtesy should yield to substantial personal rights of litigants, such as a sacrifice of their liberty."[1]

Writs of prohibition are similar to writs of certiorari, as both types of writs allow superior courts to manage inferior courts. However, unlike a writ of prohibition, superior courts issue writs of certiorari to review decisions which inferior courts have already made.

In India

A writ of prohibition is issued primarily to prevent an inferior court or tribunal from exceeding its jurisdiction in cases pending before it or acting contrary to the rules of natural justice. It is issued by a superior court to inferior courts from usurping a jurisdiction with which it was not legally vested, or in other words to compel inferior courts to keep within the limits of their jurisdiction. Thus the writ is issued in both cases where there is excess of jurisdiction and where there is absence of jurisdiction (S. Govind Menon vs. union of India, AIR 1967 SC 1274). Prohibition is not a continuation of the proceedings to be prohibited. Its object is on the contrary to arrest the inferior tribunal’s proceedings. It is a collateral matter progress essentially between the two tribunals, an inferior one and other superior one by which the latter, by virtue its power of superintendence over the former, restrains it within its rightful competence. Its nature is held to depend upon the nature of proceeding to be prohibited. The writ can be issued only when the proceedings are pending in a court if the proceeding has matured into decision, writ will not lie. When the court, before whom the matter is pending, has ceased to exist, in that condition too, the writ of prohibition will not lie because there can be no proceedings upon which it can operate but on the other hand, if the court is functioning, the writ can be issued at any stage of the proceeding before the inferior court or tribunal. It can be issued only against a judicial or legislative function.


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