A writ of mandamus is a court order that compels someone to execute a duty that he or she is legally compelled to complete. This type of writ can also be used to order a lower court to complete a duty which is assigned by law. The writ is rarely used, because it must be demonstrated that there is no other remedy available and that someone is suffering an injustice as a result of the failure to complete a legally required duty. It can also be very disruptive, and for that reason, judges are reluctant to grant such writs unless they are truly necessary.
In some cases, the writ of mandamus may order someone to complete a task, while in other cases, it may order that an activity be ceased. For example, if a couple wanted to get married and they were refused a marriage license by the clerk despite the fact that there were no legal barriers to their marriage, they could file for this type of order to compel the clerk to issue the marriage license. Conversely, someone could file for a writ to ensure that a court will not pursue a case which is outside its jurisdiction.
When a writ of mandamus is imposed on a court, the writ must come from a higher court which has authority over the lower court. In situations where the highest court appears to be neglecting its legal duties or performing tasks which are outside its scope of authority, people may have to resort to other measures to compel action. The person or court subjected to the writ can also oppose it if it can be argued that it is not appropriate to the situation.
Writs like this can only be used when there is a clear legal duty which is not being met. A writ of mandamus could not, for example, be used to compel someone to do something which she or he is not obligated to do by law and position. Likewise, if there are over equitable remedies which can be pursued they must be considered before such a writ will be granted.
To file for a writ of mandamus, it is advisable to retain a lawyer. The lawyer can review the situation and determine whether or not the writ would be an appropriate remedy, and can draft the order so that it can be quickly approved by the court.