Writ of Habeas Corpus

Donald E. Wilkes, Jr., University of Georgia School of Law

The New Georgia Encyclopedia, October 29, 2009


Georgia has played an influential role in the development of the "Freedom Writ" of habeas corpus, and its original constitution was the first in history to make access to the writ a constitutional right.

Once described by the great English scholar William Blackstone as "the most celebrated writ in the English law" and "the great and efficacious writ in all manner of illegal confinement," the writ of habeas corpus is a basic legal procedure by which individuals illegally imprisoned, or otherwise unlawfully restrained of their personal liberty, may by court order be liberated from their custody. The writ itself requires that a person restrained of his liberty be brought into court and that an explanation be provided as to why the person is in custody.

The writ of habeas corpus, whose origins may be traced to the fourteenth century, became an established part of the English common law by no later than 1600. The writ was therefore part of the law of England transported by the settlers into the thirteen colonies in North America, and was available in every one of those colonies.