AskDefine | Define certiorari

Dictionary Definition

certiorari n : a common law writ issued by a superior court to one of inferior jurisdiction demanding the record of a particular case [syn: writ of certiorari]

User Contributed Dictionary



Law present passive infinitive of certioro, a contraction of certiorem facere ("to search", literally "to make certain").


  1. A grant of the right of an appeal to be heard by an appellate court where that court has discretion to choose which appeals it will hear.
  2. A grant of review of a government action by a court with discretion to make such a review.

Derived terms

Extensive Definition

Certiorari () is a legal term in Roman, English and American law referring to a type of writ seeking judicial review. Certiorari ("to be searched") is the present passive infinitive of Latin certioro, a contraction of certiorem facere ("to search", lit. "to make certain").
A Writ of Certiorari is an order by a higher court directing a lower court to send up the record in a given case for review; from the Latin meaning "to be more certain".
Historically, in the United Kingdom, Certioro was issued to bring the record of an inferior court into the King's Bench for review or to remove indictments for trial in that court. It evolves now as a general remedy to bring decisions of an inferior court or tribunal or public authority before the superior court for review so that the court can determine whether to quash such decisions.
Certioro was a highly technical term appearing only in jurisprudential Latin, most frequently in the works of Ulpian, who favored it over the facere form.

Roman law

In Roman law, an action of certiorari was suggested in terms of reviewing a case—much as the term is applied today—although the term was also used in writing to indicate the need or duty to inform other parties of a court's ruling. The term "certiorari" is often found in Roman literature on law but applied in a philosophical rather than tangible manner when concerning the action of review of a case or aspects of a case. Basically it grants that the case will be heard, and that there is enough evidence it seems to carry on.

English law

In English law, certiorari is a public law relief (i.e. something for which you ask the court in order to deal with an action of the Government, council or other (quasi-)governmental organization). See judicial review and writ. An order of certiorari is given by a senior court to quash a decision of a lower court or other (quasi-)governmental organization. The use of certiorari in the UK is declining, due to the changes to the remedies available for judicial review.
Historically, certiorari was a prerogative writ used to direct a lower court or tribunal to certify for review the "record" in the case.
After the 1999 Woolf Reforms it is more commonly known as a quashing order.

Australian law

Certiorari is available as an incidental remedy to the remedies of mandamus, prohibition or injunction in the High Court of Australia due to the effect of s75(v) of the Australian Constitution.

United States law

Federal courts

In the United States, certiorari is the writ that an appellate court issues to a lower court in order to review its judgment for legal error and review, where no appeal is available as a matter of right. Since the Judiciary Act of 1925, most cases cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court as a matter of right; therefore, a party who wants that court to review a decision of a federal or state court files a "petition for writ of certiorari" in the Supreme Court. If the court grants the petition (see Procedures of the Supreme Court of the United States), the case is scheduled for the filing of briefs and for oral argument.
Four of the nine judges must vote to grant a writ of certiorari. This is called the "rule of four." The great majority of cases brought to the Supreme Court are denied certiorari (approximately 7,500 petitions are presented each year; between 80 and 150 are granted), because the Supreme Court is generally careful to choose only cases in which it has jurisdiction and which it considers sufficiently important to merit the use of its limited resources. See also Cert pool.
The granting of a writ does not necessarily mean the Supreme Court has found anything wrong with the decision of the lower court. Granting a writ of certiorari means merely that four judges feel the circumstances described in the petition are sufficient to warrant the full Court making a review of the case and of the lower court's action. Conversely, the legal effect of the Supreme Court's denial of a petition for a writ of certiorari is commonly misunderstood as meaning that the Supreme Court approves the decision of a lower court. However, such a denial "imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case, as the bar has been told many times." Missouri v. Jenkins, 515 U.S. 70 (1995). In particular, denial of certiorari means that no binding precedent is created, and that the lower court decision is authoritative only within its area of jurisdiction.
Certiorari is sometimes informally referred to as cert, and cases warranting the Supreme Court's attention as certworthy. One situation where the Supreme Court sometimes grants certiorari is when the federal appeals courts in two (or more) federal judicial circuits have ruled different ways in similar situations, and the Supreme Court wants to resolve that "circuit split" about how the law is supposed to apply to that kind of situation. Issues of this type are often called "percolating issues."
Cert. granted sub nom is an abbreviation of the legal phrase "certiorari granted sub nom", meaning "judicial review granted, under name:", indicating that a petition for certiorari of a case has been granted, but that the court granting certiorari is hearing the case under a different name than the preceding courts heard it. For example, the case of District of Columbia v. Heller was known as Parker v. District of Columbia in the court below.

State courts

Some U.S. state court systems use the same terminology, but in others, writ of review, leave to appeal, or certification for appeal is used in place of writ of certiorari as the name for discretionary review of a lower court's judgment. A handful of states lack intermediate appellate courts; their supreme courts operate under a mandatory review regime, in which the supreme court must take all appeals in order to preserve the loser's traditional right to one appeal. However, mandatory review remains in place, in all states where the death penalty exists; in those states, a sentence of death is automatically appealed to the state's highest court.

Administrative law

In the administrative law context, the common-law writ of certiorari was historically used by lower courts in the U.S. for judicial review of decisions made by an administrative agency after an adversarial hearing. Some states have retained this use of the writ of certiorari in state courts, while others have replaced it with statutory procedures. In the federal courts, this use of certiorari has been abolished and replaced by a civil action under the Administrative Procedure Act in a United States district court or in some circumstances a petition for review in a United States court of appeals.
certiorari in German: Certiorari
certiorari in Korean: 사건 이송 명령
certiorari in Hebrew: צו עיון מחדש
certiorari in Swedish: Prövningstillstånd
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