In Mortua Manu – Legal Maxim

Literal Meaning

In a dead hand.  


The property of religious corporations could be said to be “in dead hands”, as the members of such corporations were considered civilly dead after taking religious oaths.


In mortua manu is a Latin term which means in a dead hand. Mortmain means thus “incapacity of selling possessions or estates”. The Origin of the term is to indicate that a person who had died years earlier still dictated land use to the next generations by leaving it to the Church, which never died, and hence never had to relinquish land.


Property owned by religious societies was said to be held in mortua manu, or in mortmain, since religious men were civiliter mortui.[1] 

Case Reference

In Morelle LD v. Waterworth,[2] observed that a foreign company which doesn’t establish any business of office and does not register itself in any way is a modern instance of a dead hand (mortmain) for it puts itself in a position, if not to defeat its obligations entirely, at least to make it most difficult for dues to be collected from it.

Edited by Vigneshwar Ramasubramania

Approved & Published – Sakshi Raje


[1] 1B1. Comm. 479; Tayl. Gloss [2] Morelle LD v. Waterworth, [1954] 3 WLR 257.
Garima Sharma
A final year law student with a demonstrated history of working in the legal services industry. Skilled in civil and commercial litigation, International and Domestic Arbitration, and Intellectual Property Rights. Also, passionate about making change for the underprivileged ones' in the society.