Information (in law, a written charge or accusation made against an alleged offender, stating some violation of law, before a court of competent jurisdiction to try the same. This process has taken the place of the ancient writ of quo warranto, and it is common to speak of it as an "information in the nature of a quo warranto" It is in substance, and to some extent in form, an indictment; but an indictment can be found only by a grand jury, whereas an information is filed by an attorney of the state or United States, or other competent law officer, at his own discretion. Informations are sometimes filed for public purposes; but more often, in the United States, by some private prosecutor, who uses the name of the attorney general to ascertain his rights, or obtain redress for some wrong. Although criminal in form, they are in their nature civil proceedings. When moved by a private person for his own purposes, he is called "a relator," and the case is entitled "Information of A. B., attorney general, ex relatione of C. D. against E. F." But no such use of an information was known to the common law, as it springs altogether from statute provision; first, from the statute 9 Anne, ch. 20, and afterward by various state statutes in this country, and by adjudication founded upon the statute of Anne, in states in which there is no statute provision respecting it.
The general purpose of informations is to inquire into alleged usurpations of, or intrusion into, or unlawful claim or exercise of official or corporate powers or franchises. Thus, they are often brought against banks, alleging that they unlawfully exercise banking privileges, when the real question is not whether they possess these powers or privileges, because they have been expressly conferred by the legislature, but whether they have not forfeited their charters by misconduct. So an information may issue against a medical school, to try its right of granting the degree of doctor of medicine with a corresponding diploma; or against the mayor of a city, to determine whether he has the right to admit freemen. The most important question is, how far informations will be granted to try questions which may be considered as of private right rather than public right. The court of king's bench refused to grant one against Sir William Lowther, to try the question whether he had the right to set up a warren, because it was of a private nature; and this principle has been applied with some severity in England. Here, however, informations are used very freely, to determine questions relating exclusively to private corporations, as banks, insurance companies, etc.; but in such cases the leave of the court to file the same is usually required.
In general the court will not grant this leave where an adequate remedy at law is open to the relator; as where one sought an information against a turnpike corporation for going unlawfully through his land. The court will sometimes hear and decide the whole case on motion and argument; but if there be any question of fact, they will usually send the case to a jury. In general they will refuse an information, or determine otherwise against the relator, where there has been long and negligent delay, or persons from whom title is derived are dead, or persons having adverse title or interest have long acquiesced in the alleged usurpation. By statute in many of the United States an information is now substituted for an indictment; and where it is made use of, the rules governing indictments are applicable.