Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Ministerial Act

Scott wrote, “I received a letter from a public school official this last week addressing the signing of a labor contract with the following statement: ‘The act of signing the master agreement is merely a ministerial act.’ Can you explain the words MINISTERIAL ACT ?

New to me, so I can explain it only by going to legal sources. For instance, the legal dictionary Farlex has this: “ministerial act n. an act, particularly of a governmental employee, which is performed according to statutes, legal authority, established procedures or instructions from a superior, without exercising any individual judgment.”

So it involves an underling who is simply following established policies, not inventing them. He or she has no discretion in the matter. The Pennsylvania Legislator’s Municipal Deskbook, Third Edition, has this: “A ministerial act has been defined as one that a public officer is required to perform under a given state of facts, in a prescribed manner, in obedience to the mandate of legal authority.”

In Pennsylvania, at least, a citizen can force a municipality to take action by obtaining a writ of mandamus. This is a “a writ issued by a superior court to compel a lower court or government officer to perform mandatory or purely ministerial duties correctly.”

Minister/ministerial comes from a Latin word that meant a household servant or official.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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