COMMITMENT, in English law, a precept or warrant in writing, made and issued by a court or judicial officer (including, in cases of treason, the privy council or a secretary of state), directing the conveyance of a person named or sufficiently described therein to a prison or other legal place of custody, and his detention therein for a time specified, or until the person to be detained has done a certain act specified in the warrant, e.g. paid a fine imposed upon him on conviction. Its character will be more easily grasped by reference to a form now in use under statutory authority: -
In the county of A, Petty Sessional Division of B.
To each and all of the constables of the county of A and the governor of His Majesty's Prison at C.
E. F. hereinafter called the defendant has this day been convicted before the court of summary jurisdiction sitting at D.
(Here the conviction and adjudication is stated.)
You the said constables are hereby commanded to convey the defendant to the said prison, and there deliver him to the governor thereof together with this warrant: and you the governor of the said prison to receive the defendant into your custody and keep him to hard labour for the space of three calendar months.
Signature and seal of a justice of the peace.
A commitment as now understood differs from "committal," which is the decision of a court to send a person to prison, and not the document containing the directions to executive and ministerial officers of the law which are consequent on the decision. An interval must necessarily elapse between the decision to commit and the making out of the warrant of commitment, during which interval the detention in custody of the person committed is undoubtedly legal. A commitment differs also from a warrant of arrest (mandat d'amener), in that it is not made until after the person to be detained has actually appeared, or has been summoned, before the court which orders committal, to answer to some charge.
If not always, at any rate since 1679, a warrant of commitment has been necessary to justify officers of the law in conveying a prisoner to gaol and a gaoler in receiving and detaining him there. It is ordinarily essential to a valid commitment that it should contain a specific statement of the particular cause of the detention ordered. To this the chief, if not the only exception, is in the case of commitments by order of either House of Parliament (May, Parl. Pr., 11th ed., 63, 70, 90). Commitments by justices of the peace must be under their hands and seals. Commitments by a court of record if formally drawn up are under the seal of the court.
Every person in custody is entitled, under the Habeas Corpus Act 1679, to receive within six hours of demand from the officer in whose custody he is, a copy of any warrant of commitment under which he is detained, and may challenge its legality by application for a writ of habeas corpus.
So far as concerns the acts of justices and tribunals of limited jurisdiction, the stringency of the rules as to commitments is an important aid to the liberty of the subject.
In the case of superior courts no statutory forms of commitment exist, and the same formalities are not so strictly enforced. Committal of a person present in court for contempt of the court is enforced by his immediate arrest by the tipstaff as soon as committal is ordered, and he may be detained in prison on a memorandum of the clerk or registrar of the court while a formal order is being drawn up. And in the case of persons sentenced at assizes and quarter sessions the only written authority for enforcement is a calendar of the prisoners tried, on which the sentences are entered up, signed by the presiding judge.
Commitments are usually made by courts of criminal jurisdiction in respect of offences against the criminal law, but are also occasionally made as a punishment for disobedience to the orders made in a civil court, e.g. where a judgment debtor having means to pay refuses to satisfy the judgment debt, or in cases where the person committed has been guilty of a direct contempt of the court.
The expenses of executing a warrant of commitment, so far as not paid by the prisoner, are defrayed out of the parliamentary grants for the maintenance of prisons.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)