Habeas corpus is a Latin phrase that literally means ‘you may have the body’. Habeas corpus is one of the most important laws in the history of the world. It is an almost universal law but is at times not applicable in certain countries, regions or states where it remains revoked.
Habeas Corpus: Definition
In simple words, habeas corpus is a writ that allows an illegally detained, confined or imprisoned person to seek the recourse of law, wherein the person, people or authority imprisoning the person should furnish evidence or proof that the person should be detained or imprisoned. In other words, habeas corpus gives people the right to liberty and a legal recourse to seek evidence, proof or a trial that would be able to prove one’s innocence.
The writ of habeas corpus can be used by an illegally imprisoned or detained person and by anyone who is related or not related to the imprisoned person but aware of the imprisonment. Fellow prisoners, family members or the prisoner can sign the writ of habeas corpus. The writ is addressed to a court whose competence or authority in the given matter is beyond doubt.
The court or the judge in the case would then summon the custodian, person or authority who is in charge of the alleged illegal imprisonment of the petitioner. The court or the judge would then hear the case, allow the custodian to furnish evidence and prove that the person imprisoned is the perpetrator or deemed fit to be imprisoned for having broken a particular law or laws of the land.
Habeas Corpus: Past & Present
There was a time when kings and queens, monarchs or emperors were the judges. They had the last say; either according to established law or what they did and said became the law. The kings and queens often used their own bureaucrats, magistrates or officers serving the crown to dispense judgment. Not every case would get reported to the king or queen. Cases at local or provincial levels were often attended to by officers deputed to the duty of administering the people in the given region, town or province. Unscrupulous elements in the ranks and files would often imprison people illegally, make them slaves or hold prisoners without a fair trial. Habeas corpus challenged and succeeded to abolish such malpractices.
Habeas corpus doesn’t have much value today because it is not an assurance for a fair trial. Many domestic laws supersede habeas corpus. There are other laws in place today that ensure the rights of prisoners.