Nature & definition of Person – Origin of the concept of Legal Personality 

Nature and definition of Person and origin of the concept of Legal Personality 

In our daily life, we use the term “person” as a human being, either man or woman. On the other hand, in law, a person means a distinct, separate legal entity recognized by law, which possesses various legal rights like to sue and be sued by others, to enter into contract with others, to acquire property(both movable and immovable) in its name, to appear before a court either by itself or by its lawyer.

The term “person” has several  meanings. It has been derived from the word “personare” which meant mask. This mask was used to cover the face of actors who used to recite verses during the scene of a drama. The purpose of wearing the mask was to make the actors voice vibrant and loud.

According to Kelson, juristic persons and natural persons  have been defined by their rights and liabilities which have been taken together and are expressed through the concept of “person”.

According to García Máynez, a person is an entity capable of  having powers  and duties. He said that legal entities can be divided into juristic person and natural person. The first category of persons refers to individuals with rights and obligations and the second category of persons refers on corporate bodies endowed with legal personhood such as unions or associations. Máynez has made difference between the two above mentioned categories of persons by using the terms individual legal entity and collective legal entity.

For Gray, a ‘person’ means an “entity to which rights and duties may be attributed”. Any being that is capable of holding a right or duty, whether it be a human being or not, is ‘person’ in law. There may be a person who has duties but no rights such as ‘slaves’ when slavery was prevalent. 

Legal status of Unborn Person 

The law provides legal personality to unborn children. A baby in mother’s womb is by fiction treated as already born and regarded as person for  many purposes. A gift can be made to an unborn child who is still there in his mother’s womb.

Ownership may be vested in a child in mother’s womb (en ventre mere) and such a child constitutes life for the purpose of the rule against perpetuity. However, the rights conferred upon the unborn children are contingent depending upon his taking birth alive, when they are transferred into vested rights.

Legal Status of Dead Person 

Salmond observes that generally speaking, the personality of a human being may be said to commence with his birth and ceases with his death. Therefore, dead men are no longer persons in the eyes of the law. They cease to have rights since they cease to have any interests nor do they have any duties. A dead man’s corpse is not ‘property’ in the eyes of law. It cannot be disposed of by an instrument. Earlier, it was held that a person cannot, during his life-time, make a will disposing of any part or organ of his body but there has been a change in trend in modern time and today it is perfectly legal to donate eyes or any part of one’s body for the progress of medical science and in the interest of humanity. 

Legal Status of Idol 

An idol or deity has been legally recognised as a juristic person as it holds property. An idol’s position is like a minor as the priest, i.e., Pujari acts as a guardian to safeguard the interests of the idol.

In the case of  Devkinandan v. Muralidhar AIR 1955 SC 133, the Supreme Court held that the property of Hindu temple or an idol vests in the idol itself while its possession and management vests in Shebait as manager of the estate. 

However, the Supreme Court in Krishna Singh v. Mathura AIR 1980 SC 707, distinguished the legal position of a Math from that of temple and held that a Math is a religious institution sue generis unlike a temple where presiding element is the idol, whereas the presiding element of a Math is its Mahant or Mathadhipati. The property which belongs to Math is, in fact, attached to office of Mahant and passes by inheritance to one who fills the office. The head of a Math is not a trustee in the sense in which the term is generally understood but in legal contemplation he has an estate for life in its present endowments and then absolute property is the income derived from the offerings of his followers. Subject to the burden of maintaining the institution, he is bound to spend large part of incomes from offerings in religious or charitable objects in accordance with the usage.

Kinds of Persons 

There are only two kinds of persons recognised by law, namely (1) natural persons; and (2) legal or juristic or juridical persons who are created by the process of law. 

(1) Natural persons:

All human beings are the example of natural persons. But all living human beings need not necessarily be recognised as persons in law.

Before the abolition of slavery system, slaves did not have any rights. Again, Lunatics and infants possess only a restricted legal personality. They have  not been provided many civil rights such as right to vote etc. 

(2) Legal or Juristic or Juridical persons:

On the other hand, legal or juristic or juridical persons, are any subject-matter to which the law provides legal personality. Legal personality created under the process of law, can be conferred on entities other than human beings. As Salmond correctly pointed out, “the law in creating legal persons, always does so by personifying some real thing”. He further said that although all legal personality involves personification, the converse is not true. For example, the jury, a Bench of Judges,  the estate of a dead man are all personifications but law does not confer any legal personality on them. 

Legal persons are created under the process of law and therefore, they are artificial or imaginary to which law provides personality by way of fiction where it does not exist in fact. They also  possess rights and duties just like the natural persons. 

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