The New International Encyclopædia/Libel (admiralty practice)
LIBEL (OF. libel, libelle, libeau, Fr. libelle, from Lat. libellus, diminutive of liber, book, inner bark of a tree). In admiralty practice, the first pleading of the complainant, which is filed in the office of the clerk of the court to commence the action. It is in the form of a petition addressed to the judge of the court by name, setting forth the nature and facts of the claim and containing a prayer that process issue in the proper manner. If the action is against an individual, a citation (q.v.) will issue directing him to appear and answer; if against a vessel, a writ issues to an officer of the court directing him to attach it, which is considered sufficient notice to the owners. The libel must be verified by the libellant, as the claimant is called, or his agent if he is without the jurisdiction.
The name was borrowed from the Roman law where a pleading known as the libellus conventionis was employed to commence an action. The word libel continued to designate the first pleading in an action under the civil law. It corresponds to a complaint or declaration in other actions. See Admiralty Law.