A document formerly used to commence a lawsuit in English courts.
Historically, the writ needed to start a personal action was a mandatory letter from the king, issued by the Chancery and sealed with the Great Seal. It was directed to the sheriff of the county where the wrong was supposed to have been committed and required the sheriff to command that the defendant either satisfy the plaintiff's claim or answer the charges that had been made. This form of writ has been replaced by the summons, which commences civil actions today, but the summons is still sometimes called an original writ.
ORIGINAL WRIT, practice, English law. A mandatory letter issued in the
king's name, sealed with his great seal, and directed to the sheriff of the
county wherein the injury was committed or supposed to have been done,
requiring him to command the wrongdoer or party accused, either to do
justice to the complainant, or else to appear in court and answer the
accusation against him. This writ is deemed necessary to give the courts of
2. In modern practice, however, it is often dispensed with, by recourse, as usual, to fiction, and a proceeding by bill is substituted. In this country, our courts derive their jurisdiction from the constitution and require no original writ to confer it. Improperly speaking, the first writ which is issued in a case, is sometimes called an original writ, but it is not so in the English sense of the word. Vide 3 Bl. Com. 273 Walk. Intr. to Amer. Law, 514.