Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Mandamus Definition:

A writ which commands an individual, organization (eg. government), administrative tribunal or court to perform a certain action, usually to correct a prior illegal action or a failure to act in the first place.

Related Terms: Certiorari, Habeas Corpus, Prohibition, Quo Warranto, Abuse of Discretion

A writ which commands an individual, organization (eg. government), administrative tribunal, quasi-judicial body or court to perform a certain action, to make a decision, to which the agency is required, or for which the agency has discretion, pursuant to statute.

In State ex rel. Costco, Justice Odenwald of the Missouri Court of Appeals wrote:

"We acknowledge the limited circumstances under which a writ of mandamus may issue. A writ of mandamus is a hard and fast unreasoning writ, and is reserved for extraordinary emergencies. The function of the writ of mandamus is to enforce, not to establish, a claim of right; the office of the writ is to execute, not to adjudicate. To warrant control by mandamus, there must be an existing, clear, unconditional legal right in relator, and a corresponding present, imperative, unconditional duty upon respondent, and a default upon respondent therein."

In Bayer, Justice of the Court of Appeals of Texas wrote:

"A writ of mandamus issues to correct a clear abuse of discretion when no adequate remedy at law exists." 

In Aunton, Justice Allan wrote:

"An order of mandamus compels the performance of a statutory duty owed to the applicant.... (T)there must be a public duty to act and that duty must be owed to that particular applicant; there must have been an express demand made to the delegate that he or she act; and he or she must have refused to do so."

In Trinity Western University v British Columbia College of Teachers ([2001] 1 SCR 772; also at canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/2001/2001scc31/2001scc31.html), a college sought accreditation of a degree program from the respondent, the certifying agency. The BCCT balked at TWU's requirement that all faculty, staff and students agree in writing to:

"Refrain from practices that are biblically condemned.  These include but are not limited to drunkenness, swearing or use of profane language, harassment, all  forms of dishonesty including cheating and stealing, abortion, involvement in the occult, and sexual sins including premarital sex, adultery, homosexual behaviour, and viewing of pornography.  Furthermore married members of the community agree to maintain the sanctity of marriage and to take every positive step possible to avoid divorce."

When BCCT refused to accredit TWU on that basis, the latter applied for a mandamus order.

The BC Supreme Court agreed with TWU:

"(BCCT) stated as its reason for denying the application of TWU that it believed that the proposed program follows discriminatory practices which are contrary to the public interest and public policy.  For the reasons I have given, Council was without jurisdiction to make its decision on this ground. I am therefore remitting the matter back to the BCCT and directing that it approve TWU's ... program for accreditation...."

The Supreme Court of Canada also agreed with TWU, issued the mandamus, stating that "the BCCT (denied accreditation) on the basis of irrelevant considerations.  It therefore acted unfairly."

For an extensive analysis of mandamus, including the several postulated conditions for its application, in fashion that only a judge holding the firm belief that a detailed and long judgment, proposing a multi-step approach, is the way to improve the law and advance it, see Apotex Inc.

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