Legal Dictionary M

Magna Carta

Charter to which King John of England was forced to subscribe on June 12, 1215, in which basic limits were set on the King’s powers. King John had ruled tyrannically and his barons rebelled, committing themselves to war with the crown unless the King agreed to the Charter. It is held to be the precursor of habeas corpus, among other things, for Article 39 of the Magna Carta held that no man shall be “imprisoned, exiled or destroyed … except by lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land”.


Referring to the obligation of one person to contribute, in part or in whole, to the cost of living of another person. It is usually expressed in a currency amount per month as in “$450 a month maintenance.” Some countries use the words “support” (spousal or child) or “alimony”.


To commit an illegal action. See also misfeasance and nonfeasance.


A writ commanding an individual, organization (e.g. government), administrative tribunal, or court to perform a certain action, usually to correct a prior illegal action or a failure to act in the first place.


Accidental homicide or homicide which occurs without an intent to kill and which does not occur during the commission of another crime or under extreme provocation.

Maritime law

A very specific body of law dealing with transportation by water, seamen, and harbors.


The state-recognized, voluntary and exclusive contract for the lifelong union of two persons. Most countries do not recognize polygamous marriages, but marriage between same-sex couples is becoming increasingly recognized.

Massachusetts trust

A unique way to organize a business in which the property is bought by, or transferred to, a trustee (such as a trust company) and the trustee issues trust “units”, which the investors, or their designates, hold as beneficiaries. This is a common way to structure a large real estate purchase.


The legal state of being married. Clerics refer to the “holy” estate of matrimony.


The appointment of a mediator who acts to assist the parties in a dispute in communicating and essentially negotiating a settlement. This is the most popular form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Mediation does not involve adjudication of the issues in dispute or the forcing of 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.


Abbreviation for “Memorandum of Understanding.” A document which, if meeting the other criteria, can be, in law, a contract. Generally, in the world of commerce or international negotiations, an MOU is considered to be a preliminary document; not a comprehensive agreement between two parties but rather an interim or partial agreement on some elements, in some cases a mere agreement in principle, on which there has been accord. Most MOU’s imply that something more is eventually expected.

Mens rea

Latin for “guilty mind.” Many serious crimes require the proof of “mens rea” before a person can be convicted. In other words, the prosecution must prove not only that the accused committed the offence but that he (or she) did it knowing that it was prohibited; that their act (or omission) was done with an intent to commit a crime.


A person who is legally underage, varying between 21 and 18 years of age. Each state sets an age threshold at which time a person is invested with all legal rights as an adult. For many new adults, the most important rights mean access to places serving alcohol and the right to purchase and consume alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and drive a car. But there are many other legal rights which 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 usually start off with the name of the organization, the place and date of the meeting and the name of those persons present. They are prepared by the corporate secretary and signed by either the president or secretary.

Miranda warning

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, one will be provided before any questioning, if so desired. Also known as the “Miranda Rule. If the Miranda warning is not given, any evidence obtained or statement made by the suspect will not be admissible in court. The warning became a national police requirement when ordered by the US Supreme Court in the 1966 case Miranda v. Arizona.


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


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


The naming of a person as a party to a law suit when that person should not have been added. When mis-joinder is asserted, a court will usually accommodate a request to amend the court documents to strike, or substitute for, the name of the mis-joined party. Compare with non-joinder.


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


Any trial which is found to be null and void and of no effect because of some irregularity. It may be a partial trial which comes to a sudden end because of some reason which invalidates it, or it may be a complete trial. In either case, the situation is as if the trial had never occurred. Reasons for a mistrial include a deadlocked jury, the death of a juror, or a serious procedural and prejudicial mistake made at the trial which cannot be corrected.

Mitigating circumstances

Facts that tend to show that the defendant may have had some grounds for acting the way he/she did. Such mitigation does not negate an offence or wrongful action. For example, assault caused by provocation 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 take every reasonable action to minimize those damages. For example, in a wrongful dismissal suit, the person filing the suit should make efforts to find another job so as to minimize the economic damage on him.

Modus operandi

Latin: method of operation. Refers to a criminal’s preferred method of committing crime and can be a basis for including a specific criminal in a list of suspects. For example, a burglar may have a break and enter technique that leaves a long scratch mark on the door. Upon discovery of a burglary with such a mark, law enforcement officials might include this known burglar in the list of suspects because the evidence at the crime scene is consistent with his “modus operandi.”


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


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

Moot court

A training activity, usually held by law schools, for future lawyers, in which a fictional or hypothetical trial is held.


The temporary suspension of legal action against a person.


An interest given on a piece of land by a mortgagor, in writing, to guarantee to the mortgagee 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 taking of another person’s life, without legal justification or provocation. See also homicide.