Ultra vires

"Ultra vires" is a Latin phrase that literally means "beyond the powers". Its inverse is called "intra vires", meaning "within the powers". It is used as a legal term in a number of common law contexts.

Corporate law

In corporate law, "ultra vires" describes acts attempted by a corporation that are beyond the scope of powers granted by the corporation's Charter or in a clause in its Memorandum of Association; in the laws authorizing its formation, or similar founding documents. Acts attempted by a corporation that are beyond the scope of its charter are void or voidable.

Basic principles included the following:
# An "ultra vires" transaction might be ratified by all the shareholders.
# The doctrine of estoppel usually precluded reliance on the defense of "ultra vires" where the transaction was fully performed by one party
# "A fortiori", a transaction which was fully performed by both parties could not be attacked.
# If the contract was fully executory, the defense of "ultra vires" might be raised by either party.
# If the contract was partially performed, and the performance was held to be insufficient to bring the doctrine of estoppel into play, a suit for quasi contract for recovery of benefits conferred was available.
# If an agent of the corporation committed a tort within the scope of his or her employment, the corporation could not defend on the ground the act was "ultra vires".:Several modern developments relating to corporate formation have limited the probability that ultra vires acts will occur. Except in the case of non-profit corporations (including municipal corporations), this legal doctrine is obsolescent; within recent years, almost all business corporations are chartered to allow them to transact any lawful business. The Model Business Corporation Act of US says exactly in the following language "The validity of corporate action may not be challenged on the ground that the corporation lacks or lacked power to act". The doctrine still has some life among non-profit corporations or state-created corporate bodies established for a specific public purpose, like universities or charities. In many jurisdictions, such as Australia, legislation provides that [http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/ca2001172/s124.html a corporation has all the powers of a natural person] plus others; also, the [http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/ca2001172/s125.html validity of acts which are made ultra vires is preserved] . :However, certain other types of legal entity are not covered by such legislation. In the United Kingdom in "Hammersmith and Fulham London Borough Council v Hazell" [1992] 2 AC 1 the House of Lords held that interest rate swaps entered into by local authorities (a popular method of circumventing statutory restrictions on local authorities borrowing money at that time) were all "ultra vires" and void, sparking a raft of satellite litigation.

*According to American laws, the concept of "ultra vires" can still arise in the following kinds of activities in some states:
#Charitable or political contributions
#Guaranty of indebtedness of another
#Loans to officers or directors
#Pensions, bonuses, stock option plans, job severance payments, and other fringe benefits
#The power to acquire shares of other corporations
#The power to enter into a partnership

In the United Kingdom, the Companies Act 2006 (S.31 and S.39) greatly reduced the applicability of "ultra vires" in corporate law, although it can still apply in relation to charities and a shareholder may apply for an injunction, in advance only, to prevent an act which is claimed to be "ultra vires".

Constitutional law

Under constitutional law, particularly in Canada and the United States, constitutions give federal and provincial or state governments various powers. To go outside those powers would be ultra vires; for example, although the court did not use the term, in striking down a federal law in "United States v. Lopez" on the grounds that it exceeded the Constitutional authority of Congress, the Supreme Court effectively declared the law to be "ultra vires".

According to article 15.2 of the Irish Constitution, the oireachtas (or parliament) is the sole lawmaking body in the Republic of Ireland. In the case of "CityView Press v AnCo" however, the Irish Supreme Court held that the oireachtas may delegate certain powers to subordinate bodies through primary legislation, so long as these delegated powers allow the delegatee only to further the principles and policies laid down by the oireachtas in primary legislation and not craft new principles or policies themselves. Any piece of primary legislation which grants the power to make public policy to a body other than the oireachtas is unconstitutional; however, as there is a presumption in Irish constitutional law that the oireachtas acts within the confines of the Constitution, any legislation passed by the oireachtas must be interpreted in such a way as to be constitutionally valid where possible. Thus, in a number of cases where bodies other than the oireachtas were found to have used powers granted to them by primary legislation to make public policy, the impugned primary legislation was read in such a way that it would not have the effect of allowing a subordinate body to make public policy. In these cases, the primary legislation was held to be constitutional but the subordinate or secondary legislation, which amounted to creation of public policy, was held to be "ultra vires" the primary legislation and was therefore struck down.

In British constitutional law, "ultra vires" describes patents, ordinances and the like enacted under the prerogative powers of the Crown that contradict statutes enacted by the King-in-Parliament. Almost unheard of in modern times, "ultra vires" acts by the Crown or its servants were previously a major threat to the rule of law.

Boddington v British Transport Police is an example of an appeal heard by House of Lords which contested that a byelaw was beyond the powers conferred to it under section 67 of the Transport Act 1962. [Boddington v British Transport Police]

Administrative law

In administrative law, an act may be judicially reviewable "ultra vires" in a narrow or broad sense. Narrow ultra vires applies if an administrator did not have the substantive power to make a decision or it was wrought with procedural defects. Broad "ultra vires" applies if there is an abuse of power (e.g., Wednesbury unreasonableness or bad faith) or a failure to exercise an administrative discretion (e.g., acting at the behest of another or unlawfully applying a government policy). Either doctrine may entitle a claimant to various prerogative writs, equitable remedies or statutory orders if they are satisfied.

In the seminal case of Anisminic v Foreign Compensation Commission [1969] 2 WLR 163, Lord Reid is accredited with formulating the doctrine of ultra vires. Further cases such as Bromley LBC v Greater London Council [1983] AC 768 (see Lord Wilberforce's judgment) and Council of Civil Service Unions v Minister for the Civil Service [1985] AC 374 (see Lord Diplock's judgment) have sought to refine the doctrine.

ee also

*Judicial activism
*Judicial Review in English Law
*Mark Elliott (St. Catharine's College, Cambridge proposes the modified ultra vires doctrine for administrative law, placing it firmly in the correct constitutional setting. ("The Ultra Vires Doctrine in a Constitutional Setting: Still the Central Principle of Administrative Law" [1999] Cambridge Law Journal Vol. 58 129)




*Robert W. Hamilton." The Law of Corporation " 4th Edition, 1996 West Group

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • ultra vires — ul·tra vi·res / əl trə vī ˌrēz, u̇l trä vē ˌrās/ adv or adj [Latin, beyond the power or means (of)]: beyond the scope or in excess of legal power or authority (as of a corporation) the agency acted ultra vires the agreement was ultra vires… …   Law dictionary

  • ultra vires — ul‧tra vi‧res [ˌʌltrə ˈvaɪriːz] adjective LAW beyond legal or official powers: • All these transactions could be declared ultra vires. • an ultra vires demand by the revenue * * * ultra vires UK US adjective LAW ► beyond the legal power or… …   Financial and business terms

  • Ultra vires — Ul tra vi res, [Law Latin, from L. prep. ultra beyond + vires, pl. of. vis strength.] Beyond power; transcending authority; a phrase used frequently in relation to acts or enactments by corporations in excess of their chartered or statutory… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • ultra vires — Latin, lit. beyond powers, from vires strength, force, vigor, power, plural of vis …   Etymology dictionary

  • ultra vires — Without authority. (Dictionary of Canadian Bankruptcy Terms) United Glossary of Bankruptcy Terms 2012 …   Glossary of Bankruptcy

  • ultra vires — meaning ‘beyond one s legal power or authority’, is pronounced ult rǝ viy reez. and is printed in roman type …   Modern English usage

  • ultra vires — [ul′trə vī′rēz΄] [L, lit., beyond men] beyond the legal power or authority of a person, corporation, etc …   English World dictionary

  • ultra vires — Beyond the powers. Characterizing a contract, act, or transaction of a corporation which is beyond the express or implied powers of the corporation under any circumstances or for any purpose. Randall v Mickle, 103 Fla 1229, 138 So 14, 86 ALR 804 …   Ballentine's law dictionary

  • ultra vires — adv. & predic.adj. beyond one s legal power or authority. Etymology: L * * * ultra vires 7 [ˌʌltrə ˈvaɪriːz] [ˌʌltrə ˈvaɪriːz] adverb (from Latin, law) beyond your legal power or author …   Useful english dictionary

  • ultra vires — /ul treuh vuy reez/, Law. beyond the legal power or authority of a corporation, corporate officer, etc. (opposed to intra vires). [1785 95; < L ultra vires lit., beyond strength] * * * …   Universalium

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