STATUS OF LEGAL PERSONS IN JURISPRUDENCE

By Nickkita Shome

INTRODUCTION :

The term ‘legal’ means ‘anything which is permitted by law’ and the term personality comes from the word ‘persona’ which means ‘person’. Hence, the term ‘legal personality means ‘anything which a person can do in law’. For example, a person can sue, a person can enter into a contract, a person has his or rights and duties which they can implement, etc.

According to Salmond, “A person is any being whom the law regards as capable of rights and duties.” And, under S.11 of the Indian Penal Code[1], it is stated that “The word ‘person’ includes any company or association, or body of persons, whether incorporated or not.” [2]

Kinds of Persons: -

Law recognizes two kinds of persons and those are a natural person and a legal person.


1. NATURAL PERSONS :

According to Holland, “a natural person is such a human being as is regarded by the law as capable of being given rights and duties or having a status.” [3]

According to another writer, “natural persons are living human beings recognized as such by the state”. The first precondition of an ordinary man is that he must be recognized as qualified for his rights and duties. In the case of English law, if a person becomes an outlaw, he loses his personality and therefore has no rights and obligations.


2. LEGAL PERSONS :

A legal person is a real image entity whose personality is attributed according to an agenda that does not actually exist. They are beings treated as human beings for the purposes of the law. A legal entity is also known as an artificial, legal or fictitious person.

There are two essentials of a legal person, i.e., corpus and animus. A corpus is a body in which the law infuses the animus, will, or intentions of a fictional personality. Animus is the character or will of a person. An institution, a jury, a corporation, an organization, a foundation, an estate are all legal entities.[4] A legal personality is decided upon few factors. They are: -

i. Do they have rights and duties?

ii. Can they withhold property?

iii. Can it sue or be sued?

iv. Can it enter into any contract?


LEGAL STATUS OF DEAD PERSON :

The personality of a human being seizes to exist at death and hence, dead men are not regarded as persons in the eyes of law. They have laid down their legal personality with their lives and they are destitute of rights and liabilities.

However, there are three things in respect of which the wishes of the dead man continue even after death. They are: -

a. His Body – A living man is interested in the treatment to be given to his own dead body. Criminal law guarantees a proper burial for all who have died, and a serious violation is a criminal offense.

b. His Reputation – The reputation of a deceased person is protected to some extent by criminal law. The libel of a deceased person is punished as an offense when its publication is an attack on the interests of the living. In practice, however, this right actually belongs to the legitimate descendants of the deceased. Here, the legal maxim, ‘de mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est’ is used. This maxim means “nothing must be said about the dead except the good”. [5]

c. His will – A person can buy his will make a valid disposition of his property according to his wishes and choice. After his death, the property can be disposed of only in the manner as provided in the will. A deceased person continues to determine the enjoyment of the property he owned throughout his life. Inheritance law allows the wishes of the dead to govern the actions of the living. Above all, whatever he leaves for distribution as a gift will be respected and enforced by law according to his wishes, here is a proper document i.e., Act.


LEGAL STATUS OF UNBORN CHILD :

Unborn persons have been legal status by law. "There is nothing in the law to prevent a man from owning property before he is born."[6]. His ownership is real and present but contingent because he may never be born at all. A child in the womb of his mother is for many purposes regarded a legal fiction. The contingency on an unborn person is to be born alive. If the child is born dead then, the legal personality falls away by ab initio.

In the law of property, there is legal friction that a child who is in the mother’s womb for the purpose of the following will be treated as a person –

a. The acquisition of the property by the child itself or,

b. Being a life chosen to be part of the period in the rule against permanence.[7]

The Hindu Law of partition requires a share to be allotted to his child in the mother’s womb along with the other living heirs. But, if the child is not born alive, his share will also be divided among the surviving heirs. Thus, the act of causing injury to the child in the womb has become a criminal act that is handled by criminal law. Causing the death of a child in the womb has been considered a punishable crime by the Indian Penal Code. Thus, children in the womb have their rights guaranteed by law and have legal identities.


LEGAL STATUS OF ANIMALS :

Pet owners have rights and obligations. If you hurt an animal, you violate its rights, and if the animal injures you, it can be held responsible.

Even wild animals are protected, but that doesn't mean they have rights. They are protected to protect the interests of society as a whole. The lower animals or beasts are not regarded as persons at all whether natural or legal. They are merely things, often the objects of legal rights and duties but never the subject of them. Although beasts are incapable of legal rights and duties and their interests are not recognized by law, legal history reveals that archaic codes contain provisions regarding punishment to animals if they were found guilty of homicide.

Today, however, an animal cannot be punished but if it is extremely dangerous then, only certain laws allow shooting down. In modern law, a trespassing beast may be under distress-damaged pheasant kept distrained until his owner or someone else interested in the beast pays compensation. Similarly, in India, cattle trespass has been passed for trespassing animals.

A beast is incapable of legal rights and legal duties for its interests receives no recognition from the law. However, there are two cases in which beasts may possess legal rights –

a. Cruelty to animals is a criminal offense.[8]

b. A trust for the benefit of a particular class of animals as opposed to one for individual animals is valid and enforceable as a public and charitable trust.


LEGAL STATUS OF IDOLS :

Generally, an idol is an image or representation of a God who is used as an object of worship. Idol is a juristic person and as such can hold the property but it is treated as a minor and the pujari or someone else acts on its behalf as its guardian.

For example, Guru Granth Sahib can hold property in its name and was considered a person in Gurudawara Prabandak Committee V. Somnath Das, 2000.[9]

In the case of a Mosque, a suit cannot be brought by or against the mosque as it is not considered a juristic person for that matter in eyes of law but the question of whether a mosque is a juristic person for any other person was left open.

In the case of, Yogendranath Nashkar V. Commission of Income Tax (AIR, 1969)[10], The Supreme Court of India held that the Hindu Idol is a juristic person capable of holding property and of being tax through its sevayat. A Hindu deity falls within the meaning of individual under the Income Tax Act.


CONCLUSION :

Every human being is considered a Natural Person. Earlier Women and slaves were treated as property and were given almost no right at all. Children were also considered to be the property of their fathers. The legal status of an ‘unborn child’ has been decided according to the property rights in our country. However, though all the rights and duties come to an end with the death of a person. Still, a ‘dead man’ has three rights in various circumstances as mentioned above. Likewise, an ‘animal’ is also not considered as a person but it too has various rights. Legal personality is created by law and thus, the law confers rights and liabilities to an entity by fiction otherwise.

In Pramath Nath Mullick V. Pradyum Nath Mullick[11], the court held that temple is to be considered as a person. However, in Masjid Sahid Ganj[12], the court held that a mosque would not be considered as a person. Moreover, in Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee V. Somnath Das, the honorable court held Guru Granth Sahib as a person.

Therefore, by these examples, we can observe that, in many cases, the court decides the legal status according to the case.

[1]The Indian Penal Code, 1869 [2] HP Ranina, Legal concept of association of persons, FINANCIAL EXPRESS (Jul. 29, 2021, 10:04 AM) https://www.financialexpress.com/archive/legal-concept-of-association-of-persons/372324/#:~:text=Under%20section%203(42)%20of,vCIT%20(67%20ITR%20106)) [3]Manishranjan, Meaning and Kind of Person, LEGAL SERVICES INDIA (Jul. 29, 2021, 10:42 AM), http://www.legalservicesindia.com/article/2316/Meaning-and-Kind-of-Person.html [4]Kartick Maheshwari and Vishnu Vardhan Shankar, Journal Article Stone Gods and Earthly Interests: The Jural Relations and Consequence of Attributing Legal Personality to Hindu Idols, JSTOR ( Jul. 29, 12:09 PM), https://www.jstor.org/stable/44308383 [5] Buerhan Saiti and Adam Abdullah, The Legal Maxims of Islamic Law (Excluding Five Leading Legal Maxims) and Their Applications in Islamic Finance, JKAU: ISLAMIC ECON( Jul. 30, 2021), https://iei.kau.edu.sa/Files/121/Files/153873_29-02-12-Buerhan.pdf [6]Vol. 1, ASIM KURJAK & FRANK A CHERVENAK, TEXTBOOK OF PERINATAL MEDICINE (2nd ed., 2006) [7] Gowri Dev, Property Law and Unborn: The Legal Fiction and The Property Rights, INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LEGAL SCIENCE AND INNOVATION (Jul. 30, 2021), https://www.ijlsi.com/wp-content/uploads/Property-Law-and-Unborn-The-Legal-Fiction-and-The-Property-Rights.pdf [8] The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 [9] Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee v. Somnath Das, (2000) 4 SC 146, [10] Yogendranath Nashkar V. Commission of Income Tax, (1969) AIR 1089 [11]Pramath Nath Mullick V. Pradyum Nath Mullick, (1925) 27 BOMLR 1064 [12] Masjid Shahid Ganj & Others v. Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Amritsar (AIR 1938 Lahore 369)


Author: Nickkita Shome

Course: BALLB(H), 3rd Semester

College: Amity Law School, Amity University Kolkata

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