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Dictionary of legal terms - M
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[Home][Index - Dictionary][Dictionary of legal terms - M]

UK Law Dictionary - English Legal System

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Maastricht Treaty


See Treaty on European Union.

Magna Carta 


[Latin: Great Charter / paper].


King John of England on 12 June 1215 was required to sign the Magna Carta on the insistence of his barons.  A basic set of limits were set on the King's powers. King John had ruled tyrannically.


His barons rebelled and committed themselves to war with King John unless he agreed to the Charter.




Clause 39: Has never been rescinded, and is the precursor of habeas corpus "No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights and possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land."




Clause 54: "No one shall be arrested or imprisoned on the appeal of a woman for the death of any person except her husband."




Clause 21:  No longer applicable, specified that lords could be judged only by other lords, not on ordinary courts




Clause 11: says that if a man dies owing money, his widow is not responsible for his debts. The clause is  anti-semitic, because it was assumed that most moneylenders were Jews.




Clause 38:  "No official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it."




Clause 40: promised to end the system by which rich offenders could simply buy their way out of trouble.




For a medieval monarch to make promises like these was an extraordinary moment in history



Refers to the obligation of one person to contribute, in part or in whole, to the cost of living of another person. Maintenance is usually expressed in a currency amount per month as in "450 pounds a month maintenance." Some countries prefer the words "support" (spousal or child) or "alimony" but they all mean the same thing.



To administer or manage inefficiently or dishonestly. Bad administration; bad management of any business, especially of public affairs.



Doing something that is illegal. Compare with misfeasance and nonfeasance.



Mandamus is an order requiring an inferior court or tribunal or person or body of persons charged with a public duty to carry out its judicial or other public duty. An order of mandamus cannot be made against the Crown (Crown Proceedings Act 1947, s 40), but it will lie against an officer of the Crown who is obliged by statute to do some ministerial or administrative act which affects the rights or interests of the applicant.



There are two principle forms of manslaughter, voluntary and involuntary.




The former is where the defendant intends to kill but rather than being convicted for murder is convicted of the lesser offence because of diminished responsibility, provocation or suicide pact.  The common law was put on a statutory basis by the Homicide Act 1957.




Involuntary manslaughter is where the death of the victim occurs because of a dangerous and unlawful act (formerly called constructive manslaughter) or because death occurs through the gross negligence of the defendant.




Reckless manslaughter is subsumed in Gross Negligence manslaughter.  Motor manslaughter is rarely seen in British courts.

Maritime law 


A very specific body of law peculiar to seamen, harbours and transportation by water.



The state recognised, voluntary and exclusive contract for the lifelong union of two persons. Most countries including the UK do not recognise marriage between same sex couples or polygamous marriages.




Same sex civil partnerships are precisely that and not marriage.

Maxwell-Fyfe, David QC


David Maxwell-Fyfe was born in Scotland the son of a teacher. Became a barrister, took silk, and married Rex Harrison’s glamorous sister. At 35 became a Conservative MP.




In 1945 he was deputy chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials and was then involved with European reconstruction.




He served on the Council of Europe as “rapporteur” (a reporting official, chairman) on the team drafting the Convention on Human Rights. In 1951, the United Kingdom became the first country to ratify the convention. Britain did not accept the jurisdiction of the European Court – established in 1959 - until 1966.




As Home Secretary Maxwell-Fyfe refused clemency to Derek Bentley who had a mental age of 11 and was hanged after a policeman was shot dead by his accomplice Craig who could not be hanged because he was under-age.



The legal state of being married. Ecclesiastics talk of the "holy" state of matrimony.

McKenzie friend


From McKenzie v McKenzie [1970] CA


A person at the side of a party in an action who could give advice, take notes and make suggestions to the applicants in the conduct of their case.


Lord Tenterden CJ said that any person, whether a professional man or not, may attend court as a friend, may take notes, and may quietly offer suggestions and give advice.




The judgment in the 1999 Court of Appeal case of R v Bow County Court, ex parte Pelling confirms that litigants in person should be allowed the help of a McKenzie Friend in public proceedings, held in open court or in chambers, unless the judge is satisfied that fairness and the interests of justice do not require it.



In an open court hearing there usually must be some justification established if a person is not to have the benefit of a McKenzie Friend, or some evidence that the McKenzie Friend has acted or is acting inappropriately at the hearing which makes it reasonable to deprive the litigant of the assistance which would otherwise be permitted.



Where the proceedings are held in private then the nature of those proceedings (which make it appropriate for the hearing to be in private) may make it undesirable in the interests of justice for a McKenzie Friend to assist.



On 12 July 2010, Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger and the President Sir Nicholas Wall in the Court of Appeal, Civil Division issued further guidance in the Guidance for McKenzie Friends (Civil and Family Courts)




Any legislative, judicial or administrative act adopted by a Community institution or national authority.



The most popular form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), mediation involves the appointment of a mediator who acts as a facilitator assisting the parties in communicating, essentially negotiating a settlement. The mediator does not adjudicate the issues in dispute or force a compromise; only the parties, of their own volition, can shift their position in order to achieve a settlement. The result of a successful mediation is called a "settlement." Compare with arbitration


Can be used in marital breakdown before divorce, or to prevent divorce.

Member State


A state which is a member of the European Communities. Depending on the context, the term may refer to :

  • the state as a person in international law;

  • the organs of government of the state, including local authorities, the judiciary and all persons or bodies exercising powers of a public, as opposed to a private nature;

  • the state and the inhabitants of the state; or

  • the territorial area of the state.

Mens rea 


[Latin: guilty mind].  Many serious crimes require the proof of "mens rea". In other words, the prosecution must prove not only that the accused committed the offence but also that he/ she did it knowing that it was prohibited; that their act (or omission) was done with an intent to commit a crime, or foresaw the consequences of their actions.  Mens rea can be detected in a crime from a limited number of words than are used in the offence to indicate state of mind, e.g. "intention", "wilfully" or "with malice". 




Other crimes considered less serious, motoring offences for example require no mens rea and are described as offences of strict liability.




Some crimes require specific knowledge as part of the mens rea for example, knowledge or belief that the goods have been stolen is an essential ingredient in a charge of handling stolen goods.




Where mens rea is required it must be proved that it occurred at the same time as the actus reus of the crime (referred to as contemporaneity or coincidence of actus reus and mens rea).




Motive is not the same as mens rea which is a legal concept.

Merger Treaty


Treaty creating a single Council to take the place of the Special Council of Ministers of the European Coal and Steel Community, the Council of the European Economic Community and the Council of the European Atomic Energy Community, and a single Commission to take the place of the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community, the Commission of the European Economic Community and the Commission of the European Atomic Energy Community.

Ministry of Justice


The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) came into being in May 2007.

It comprises

  • the National Offender Management Service,

  • the Office for Criminal Justice Reform and

  • the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA).


The MoJ has responsibility for the courts, sentencing, prisons, rehabilitation plus DCA policies like voting, crown dependencies, human rights, tribunals and freedom of information.



A person who is legally underage. In the UK, it is 18 years of age. In the USA, each state sets an age threshold at which time a person is invested with all legal rights as an adult. For many new adults, this may mean the right to purchase alcohol and vote. However, there are many other legal rights that a minor does not have such as, in some states, the right to own land, to sign a contract or to get married.



The official record of a meeting. Some minutes include a summary (not verbatim) of the discussion along with any resolutions. Other minutes just contain a record of the decisions. Minutes start with the name of the organisation, the place and date of the meeting and the name of those person's present. Minutes are prepared by the corporate secretary and signed by either the president, chairperson or secretary.

Miranda warning 


In the USA:  also known as the "Miranda Rule, this is the name given to the requirement that police officers, in the U.S.A., must warn suspects upon arrest that they have the right to remain silent, that any statement that they make could be used against them in a court of law, that they have the right to contact a lawyer and that if they cannot afford a lawyer, that one will be provided before any questioning is so desired. Failure to issue the Miranda warning results in the evidence so obtained not being admissible in the court. The warning became a national police requirement when ordered by the US Supreme Court in the 1966 case Miranda v Arizona and that is how it got the name.  In the UK, the equivalent is to caution under the provision of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, formerly known as Judges Rules.



UK: A minor crime, formerly contrasted with a felony. 


(USA) A crime of lesser seriousness than a felony where the punishment might be a fine or prison for less than one year.



Improperly doing something that a person has the legal right to do. Compare with malfeasance and nonfeasance.

The unlawful performance of a lawful act. For the tort of "misfeasance in a public office" it is not necessary to prove malice.

In a case in 1984, the Ministry of Agriculture banned the importation of French turkeys to protect British producers. The Court of Appeal ruled that it did not matter that the ministry had not acted to harm French interests but merely to protect those in Britain. It was enough that an official knew that he was acting beyond his powers, and that his action would financially injure others.



When a person has been named as a party to an action when that person should not have been added. When this is asserted, a court will usually accommodate a request to amend the court documents to strike out, or substitute for, the name of the mis-joined party. Compare with non-joinder.



A false and material statement which induces a party to enter into a contract. This is a ground for rescission of the contract.



In Scotland,  letters and other writings exchanged by parties negotiating for a contract - nearly always to buy and sell 'heritage'.



A partial or complete trial which is found to be null and void and of no effect because of some irregularity. The sudden end of trial before it would ordinarily end because of some reason, which invalidates it. Once a mistrial is declared, the situation is as if the trial had never occurred. Some common reasons for a mistrial include a deadlocked jury, the death of a juror or a serious procedural and prejudicial mistake made at the trial that cannot be corrected.

Mitigating circumstances 


These are facts that, while not negating an offence or wrongful action, tend to show that the defendant may have had some grounds for acting the way he/she did. For example, assault, though provoked, is still assault but provocation may constitute mitigating circumstances and allow for a lesser sentence.

Mitigation of damages 


A person who sues another for damages has a responsibility to minimise those damages, as far as reasonable. For example, in a wrongful dismissal action, the person that was sacked should make some effort to find another job so as to minimise the economic damage on themselves.

Mode of Trial


A procedure in the magistrates’ court where, in either-way cases a not guilty plea or no plea is indicated, a decision is made as to whether the trial is to take place in the magistrates’ court or Crown Court, depending upon seriousness

Modus operandi 


[Latin: method of operation]. Used by law enforcement officials to refer to a criminal's preferred method of committing crime. For example, car thief "George" may have a break and enter technique that leaves a long scratch mark on the door. Upon discovery of a stolen vehicle with such a mark, the police might include "George" in the list of suspects because the evidence at the crime scene is consistent with his "modus operandi."



Half of something. For example, it can be said that joint tenants hold a moiety in property. In old criminal law, there were "moiety acts" which allowed half of the fine money to be handed over to the informer.



A commercial advantage enjoyed by only one or a select few companies in which only those companies can trade in a certain area. Some monopolies are legal, such as those temporarily created by patents. Others are secretly built by conspiracy between two or more companies and are prohibited by law.



Also called a "moot point": a side issue, problem or question which does not have to be decided to resolve the main issues in a dispute.

Moot court 


Fictional or hypothetical trial, usually hosted by law schools, as training for future barristers or solicitors. 



Motor Insurers Bureau (MIB)

  The MIB was established in 1946 to compensate victims of untraced or uninsured drivers.


By virtue of the Road Traffic Act 1988 every motor insurance company is obliged to contribute towards its funding. It is estimated that every insured motorist pays £30 extra annually on their policy to cover the costs of the MIB.



The purpose behind an action, to be distinguished from the legal concept of mens rea.




Motive therefore is not normally relevant in prosecutions, except in cases of libel.  Although motive may provide circumstantial evidence that the defendant is guilty of the crime alleged it is rarely relevant.




A "good" motive, for example to kill a loved one to prevent them from suffering does not affect guilt so euthanasia is still murder. 




Motive may have some relevance in the crime of libel.




Motive goes to mitigation and can be taken into account in deciding sentence.



The temporary suspension of legal action against a person.



An interest given on a piece of land, in writing, to guarantee the payment of a debt or the execution of some action. It automatically becomes void when the debt is paid or the action is executed. In some jurisdictions, it entails a conveyance of the land until the debt is paid in full. The person lending the money and receiving the mortgage is called the mortgagee; the person who concedes a mortgage as security upon their property is called a mortgagor.  Popularly people talk of "getting a mortgage" from a bank or building society when in fact it is they that give the mortgage against the loan of the money.



An action in Scotland, (pronounced "multiplepinding") is a civil action to sort out a number of conflicting claims on, for example, a frozen Bank Account.



Intentional taking of another person's life, without legal justification or provocation.




"Murder is when a man of sound memory and of the age of discretion, unlawfully killeth within any county of the realm any reasonable creature in rerum natura under the king's peace, with malice aforethought, either expressed by the party or implied by that the wounded party shall die of the wound or hurt, (within a year and a day of the same." This last sentence removed by The Law Reform (Year and a Day Rule) Act 1996
 (Derived from Coke's Institutes, 3 Co Inst 47)(17th Century)




Under the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 a second conviction for attempted murder carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.

Murmuring (a judge)


The offence of publicly criticising, or "murmuring", a judge, or for jurors to openly discuss their deliberations after they reach a verdict.


In 1900, the editor of the Birmingham Daily Argos was fined £100 by the Lord Chief Justice for describing Mr Justice Darling as an “impudent little man in horsehair”. The editor avoided a prison sentence for “personal scurrilous abuse of a judge” only because he made an abject apology.



Avoiding prosecution, but arguably offending this principle, Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, made a speech to the Society of Editors on 9 November 2008, in which he accused Mr Justice Eady of “an animus against the popular press”, and complained that the judge had given “arrogant and amoral judgments” that had created a privacy law “with a stroke of his pen”.  The matter in question was the defamation judgment concerning Max Mosley the head of F1 motor sport whom it had been alleged had paid five women £2,500 to take part in acts of sexual depravity with him

mutatis mutandis


[Latin: When the necessary changes have been made] Draws the reader's attention to the difference between one statement and another.


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