Habeas Corpus - Derivation and Form

Derivation and Form

Habeas corpus is a Latin phrase, which can be literally translated as “(we command) that you have the body” or "you should arrest" the conventional incipit of medieval arrest warrants in England. The writ is referred to in full in legal texts as habeas corpus ad subjiciendum or more rarely ad subjiciendum et recipiendum. It is sometimes described as the “great writ”. Its name derives from the operative words of the writ in Medieval Latin:

Praecipimus tibi quod corpus A.B. in prisona nostra sub custodia tua detentum, ut dicitur, una cum die et causa captionis et detentionis suae, quocumque nomine praedictus A.B. censeatur in eadem, habeas coram nobis ... ad subjiciendum et recipiendum ea quae curia nostra de eo adtunc et ibidem ordinare contigerit in hac parte. Et hoc nullatenus omittatis periculo incumbente. Et habeas ibi hoc breve.

We command you, that the body of A.B. in Our prison under your custody detained, as it is said, together with the day and cause of his taking and detention, by whatever name the said A.B. may be known therein, you have at our Court ... to undergo and to receive that which our Court shall then and there consider and order in that behalf. Hereof in no way fail, at your peril. And have you then there this writ.

The word habeas in the writ is in the subjunctive (specifically the volitive subjunctive): "We command that you have ...". That the basic form of the writ of habeas corpus, now written in English, has changed little over the centuries can be seen from the following examples.

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