What Does "Intra Vires" Mean?

Maggie Worth

Intra vires is a legal term that indicates that something is within the legal power of a specific entity or jurisdiction. It contrasts with the term ultra vires, which means that something is outside the legal power of an entity or jurisdiction. These terms are sometimes used to indicate whether or not it is legal for the court or law enforcement agency involved in a case to proceed. They can, however, indicate whether an individual or corporation has the right to take an action as well.

Intra vires may refer to a law enforcement agency's jurisdiction over a crime scene.
Intra vires may refer to a law enforcement agency's jurisdiction over a crime scene.

When used in a law enforcement setting, intra vires indicates, firstly, that the agency has jurisdiction over the crime or suspect. It also indicates that the agency is legally allowed to take the action it is taking. For example, if a law enforcement agency is allowed to question a suspect, such questioning is intra vires. If the agency cannot question the suspect, perhaps because he is a minor and the law requires that a parent be present for questioning, any questioning would be ultra vires.

If a law enforcement agency is allowed to question a suspect, the questioning is intra vires.
If a law enforcement agency is allowed to question a suspect, the questioning is intra vires.

In a court setting, the term also refers dually to the jurisdictional right of the court to hear the case and to the court's following of applicable laws. For example, local laws might grant the court, in the person of the judge, the right to determine whether or not specific evidence is admissible. Intra vires can also refer to a court's right to hear a criminal or a civil case.

When used to describe the rights of individuals, intra vires refers to things that the individual is or is not authorized to do. For example, in most cases, an individual is not allowed to restrain another individual against his will. In areas that allow for a citizen's arrest, however, an individual may restrain a criminal fleeing the scene of a crime.

The term can also be used in relation to businesses or organizations. For example, a business might have the right to track and read all electronic communications, including emails, sent from an employee's computer. This right might extend to company-owned laptops, even when the computer is not actually on company property. Individual privacy rights would not apply because the computer is the property of the company rather than the employee.

Intra vires is derived from Latin. The term literally means "within the powers." Though it often is used in legal actions, it can also be used in hiring contracts or other types of employment documents.

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Discussion Comments


@fify-- I don't think there is a penalty, if it was not intra vires and it was realized later on, that act would just become invalid. It would no longer apply.

With government agencies, this is not really possible since there is a lot of checks and balances to make sure that every agency is doing only what they are authorized to do. If for example, a wrong court or law enforcement department was given a case, it would not take long for the agencies to realize that. The agency or department which has the authority to take the case would make an appeal for it.

I suppose some actions could be taken ultra vires in the corporate world if there is some confusion about the laws that pertain to it. Then, as soon as the mistake is realized, whatever that is ultra vires will automatically become invalid. It will be like it never happened.


Great information, thanks!

I'm curious, what would happen if someone or some agency did something that was not intra vires intentionally or unintentionally? Is there a penalty?

What about if it was unintentional, if they didn't realize that it was not in their power to do that?


We use this term a lot in our office, particularly during committee meetings. We have meetings every month where we discuss important issues relating to our organization.

Once in a while a committee member will want to discuss an issue that our committee doesn't have any authority in. This happens when a member is also associated with another organization and they want to bring some of those issues to our attention. The response by other committee members is that this issue is ultra vires and we're better of spending our time on issues that are intra vires.

After all, there's no point of using everyone's valuable time to discuss something that we can do nothing about. So we always try to concentrate on issues that are intra-vires to our organization. Otherwise, the committee members will stop attending the meetings and then, nothing will get done.

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