Legal Maxim

Home » Ultra Vires


Literal Meaning

Beyond the powers

Origin

Latin

Explanation

The phrase refers to actions taken by the government bodies or corporations that exceed the scope of power given to them, under the laws or corporate charters. In a legal perspective, while referring to the acts of government bodies (e.g., legislatures), a constitution is referred to as the scope of power. In general, it is applicable only to the acts performed in excess of the legal powers of the doer. Ultra vires is opposite from intra vires, which means ‘within the powers.’ It means, if has the legal authority to do something, and acts within that granted authority, then it is said that he is acting intra vires.

Historically, the ultra vires concept has been used to construe the powers of a government entity narrowly. Failure to observe the statutory limits has been characterized as ultra vires.

In Company law, every company has what is called a “Memorandum of Association of Company” which is the company’s constitution. It defines the company’s objectives, powers, and areas of operation, both internal and external. The Memorandum serves as an outline and a guide that the executives of the company can follow to be sure of the scope of their own powers, and what lines they cannot and should not cross. This commitment to upholding the company’s Memorandum is referred to as “ultra vires doctrine.”

Illustration

A company’s constitution might outline the procedure for appointing directors to its board. If board members are added or removed without following those procedures, then those actions would be described as ultra vires.

When government bodies or agencies take action, the scope of their powers is determined by laws that can include a constitution. If branches of government go beyond those outlined powers, their actions can be deemed ultra vires and may face legal repercussions.

Case Laws

In Anand Prakash And Anr. Vs. Assistant Registrar, the Allahabad High Court referred to the above phrase and held that “The term ‘ultra vires’ simply means “beyond powers” or “lack of power” The term ‘ultra vires’ signifies a concept distinct from “illegality” In the loose or the widest sense everything that is not warranted by law is illegal hut in its proper or strict connotation “illegal” refers to that quality which makes the act itself contrary to law. It points to the capacity or power of the person to do that act. An act may be illegal because it is prohibited by law or for reasons like fraud, undue influence or because it may be opposed to public policy.”

In V. Ramiah vs. the State Bank Of India, the Madras High Court defined the term ultra vires as “Where a particular act or exercise of power or function exceeds legal authority, infringes some legal restriction, is either incompetent or mala fide or, being frankly quasi-judicial contravenes some norm of natural justice, it may be struck down; but not otherwise.”

In V T Khanzode vs. Reserve Bank of India, the Supreme Court held that “the doctrine of ultra vires was examined by their Lordship in relation to the power of a statutory corporation. The Court held that the doctrine of ultra vires in relation to the powers of a statutory corporation has to be understood reasonably and so understood “whatever may fairly be recorded as incidental to, or consequential upon, those things which the legislature has authorized ought not (unless expressly prohibited) to be held by judicial construction, to be ultra vires.”