Legal Rights – Definitions and characteristics



A legal right is an interest accepted an protected by law and the  violation of any legal right of a person is considered as a legal wrong and punishable by law. Legal right are equally available to all citizens without discrimination based on caste, creed and sex and it is the duty of every individual to respect it.

These rights and freedoms are protected by the common law principle and any legislation should not infringe or violate the freedom and the fundamental rights provided under Indian constitution unless the legislation expresses a clear intension to do so and the infringement or such violation is reasonable.

Legal rights way the ones rights which are covered and constrained by means of a particular statutory law. For example Right to sue, Right to vote etc. but they (legal rights)  differ from the fundamental rights as fundamental rights are available to all the citizens of the country and are assured by the constitution of India, but prison rights are ruled by particular law. For instance Right to Information Act, 2005 and they are available to individuals who are certified through that particular Act.

Definitions of legal rights

According to Gray, the term legal right has been used in two sense. They are

Popular sense:

A legal right is that a power which a man has to take a person or person do or refrain from doing certain act or certain acts, so far as the power arises from society imposing a legal duty upon a person or persons.

Wider sense:

In a wide sense, legal right include any legally recognized interest whether it corresponds to a legal duty or not. It is an addition or benefit conferred upon a person by a rule of law. There are various definitions given by different scholars to the legal rights. They are as follows

According to Hibbert, “ a right is one person” capacity of obliging others to do or forbear by means not of his own strength but by the strength of a third party. If such third parts is the public generally acting though opinion, the right is moral. If such third parts is the stale acting directly or indirectly, the right is legal”.

According to Salmond, “ A right is an interest recognized and protected by a rule of legal justice. In order that an interest may become a legal right, it must obtain not merely legal protection but also legal recognition”.

According to Austin, “ right is a faculty which resides in a determinate party or parties by virtue of a given aw and which avails against a party or parties or answer to duty lying on party or parties in whom resides”.

He observes that a person has a right when another or others are bound or obliged by law to do or forbear towards or in regard of him.

According to Holland,” legal right is the capacity residing in one man of controlling, with the assent and assistance of the state, actions of others”.

According to Laski, “ right is those conditions of social life without which no man can seek in genera, to be himself at his best”.

As per T. H. Green , “right is a power necessary for the fulfillment of man’s vocation as a moral being”.

Beni Prasad explained that “ rights are nothing more nor less than those social conditions which are necessary or favorable to the development of personality”.

According to Pollock, “ right is freedom allowed and power conferred by law”.

According to Kant, “ right is an authority to compel”.

Essentials of Legal Rights:

According to Salmond, every legal right has the following characteristics. They are as follows,

The person of inheritance:

The first essential element of the legal right is that there must be a person who is the owner of the right. He is the subject of the legal right and described as the person of inheritance. The owner of a right need not be  determinant or fixed person. If an individual owes a duty towards society at large, then an indeterminant body is the subject of inheritance.

Example :If ‘X’ purchased a car for RS.5 lakh from ‘Y’, then ‘X’ is called the subject of the right.

The person of incidence / subject of the duty:

A legal right occurs against another person or persons who are under a corresponding duty to respect that right. Such person is called the person of incidence or the subject of the duty. If X has a particular right against Y, X is the person of inheritance and Y the subject of incidence.

Example : if ‘X’ purchased a car for Rs.5 lakh from ‘Y’, then ‘Y’ is called the subject of the duty.

The content of the right or the act or omission which the duty-bound person ought to do in favor of the person entitled to the right.

The object of the right or the thing which is the subject matter of the right. Example: if ‘X’ purchased  car for Rs. 5 lakh, then the car is the object of right

The title is nothing but the name given to the legal right . the title is a process, by which the right is vested. Examples are gift, purchase etc.

Characteristics of Legal Rights:

  • Legal rights exist only in society. These are the products of social living exercised by the people for their development and hence for the development of society and cannot be exercised against the society.
  • They are the claims of the individuals for their development in society and recognized by as a common claims of all the people.
  • Legal rights are considered as the rational and moral claims that people makes in their society and they are available equally to all  the people.
  • The concept and contents of the legal rights changes with the passage of time and they are not absolute in nature and keeps on changing.
  • They always have limitations which are essential for maintaining public health, security, order and morality.
  • It is the duty of a state to protect the rights of the people and they need enforcement and can really be used by the people.

Author: sathiya v,
Dr.Ambedkar Law university, chennai

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