Legal Personality

Legal Personality

Autor: Zainul Rizvi

Legal personality is a medium through which some such units are created in whom rights can be vested – G.W. Paton

Origin of the term Legal Personality

The word person has been derived from the Latin word Persona which means mask. In olden times before the 16th century, people wore masks to cover their faces, A ‘person’ is generally defined as being a subject or bearer of a right. But when we do the interpretation of the term person we come to the conclusion that the term person is subject to duties as well. Subjects of rights or of duties are in general individual human beings, but Law also certain groups of persons or of property, which are also capable of being subject to rights by conferring artificial personality to them. Legal personality being the creation of law, can be conferred on entities other than human beings. Thus law recognizes two types of persons namely, natural and artificial the former refer to human beings while latter to others. One of the most recognized artificial people is corporations.

Many jurists have restricted the use of the term ‘personality’ to human beings alone but in the case of Pramatha Nath Mullick v. Pradyuma Kumar Mullick[1] Privy Council held that the term personality has a far wider connotation in law and includes gods, angels, idols. etc although they are not human beings.

Legal Personality is a fiction of Law

The artificial personality conferred on certain non- living entities and inanimate objects and treating them as ‘persons’ is a creation by the fiction of law introduced for the purpose of bestowing the character and properties of individuality on a collective body of persons. In other words, the fiction of law is something false which law assumes or accepts as true. For eg a company or a corporation, or an idol though not a natural person, is treated as a legal person by the fiction of law with the view of determining their rights, claims, duties, obligations, liabilities. etc.

Legal Status of Unborn Child

Law attributes legal personality to unborn children. A child in the mother’s womb is by fiction treated as already born and regarded as a person for many purposes. A gift may be made to a child who is still in his mother’s womb. In the case of Elliot v. Lord Joicey[2], it was held that Ownership may be vested in a child in mother’s womb (en ventre sa mere) and such a child constitutes life for the purpose of the rule against perpetuity.

The Hindu law of partition requires a share to be allotted to a child in the mother’s womb along with the other living heirs. However, if the child does not take birth alive, his share may be equally partitioned between the surviving heirs. Under the Indian Penal Code, injury to a child in the womb is a punishable offence[3]

In the case of  R. v. Shepherd[4], it was held that any act which prevents or obstructs the safe delivery of a child taking birth alive has also been considered as an offence under the criminal law.

Legal Status of Idol and Mosque

Idol is a juristic person and has been recognized judicially and as such, it can hold property.

Its position is, however, like that of a minor because the priest, i.e., Pujari acts as a guardian to look after the interests of the idol, i.e, Deity.

The Apex Court of India in Yogendra Nath Naskar v. Commissioner of Income Tax held that an idol is a juristic person capable of holding property and of being taxed through its shebaits who is entrusted with the possession and management of its properties.

In the case of Vijay Chand v. Kalipa, the Supreme Court observed that if the idol (deity)  is allowed in law to own property, there is no reason why it should not be liable to be taxed under the law of taxation, It is because of the legal personality of idols that the rule against perpetuity does not apply in case of religious endowments. The Supreme Court in Devkinandan v. Muralidhar[5] ruled that the property of Hindu temple or an idol vests in the idol itself while the possession and management vests in Shebait as manager of the estate.

As regards the legal personality of a mosque the courts have expressed different views. In Maula Bux v. Hafizuddin[6]The High Court of Lahore held that a mosque was a juristic person capable of being sued. But in the case of Masjid Shahid Ganj[7] The Privy Council held a contrary view and observed that mosques are not artificial persons in the eyes of law and therefore, no suits can be brought by or against them. But the Privy Council left the question open whether for any purpose a mosque can be regarded as a juristic person.

In the case of Siromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee v. Somnath Das[8] The Supreme Court held that ‘Guru Granth Sahib’ is the holy Granth of Sikhs as a legal person. The Court rejected the plea to compare Guru Granth Sahib with that of a Hindu idol because idol-worship is contrary to Sikh religious tenets but at the same time asserted that the Sikhs have the same regard and respect for Guru Granth Sahib as the Hindus have for an idol. Hon’ble Apex Court further made it clear that Guru Granth Sahib stands on altogether different footings than the Holy books of other religions namely, Bibles of Christians, Holy Qurans of Muslims or Ramayana, and Bhagavad Gita of Hindus because these are not treated as legal persons. The learned judge stated that it is treated and worshipped as ‘Guru’ by the Sikh Community and considered as the soul and heart of Gurudwara.

Kinds of Legal Persons

In the eyes of law there are only two kinds of legal person, namely 

(1) Natural person and

(2) legal person who are artificial creation of law.

Legal Person is a subject matter to which the law attributes legal personality.  Salmond observed that “the law in creating a legal person, always does so by personifying some real thing”. He further pointed out that although all legal personality involves personification, the converse is not true[9]. For better understanding, the estate of a dead man, the jury, a Bench of Judges are all personifications but the law does not confer any legal personality on them.

Hibbert classify legal person into three different categories:

  1. Certain non-living things can be conferred legal personality by personification. The existence of such a legal person is real but its personification is fictitious. The Paradigm Dominans and Pradium Servians under the ancient Roman law of easements were examples of such personality. The former meant a piece of land that invested a person with certain rights over the latter i.e another piece of land. The owner of premium servians was subject to these rights. It was through a fiction of law that a presumption was made that preadium dominance possessed rights over the premium servants and that the latter owed certain duties to the former. Thus both are regarded as legal persons.  The English law, however, does not accept these tenements as legal persons.[10]
  •  A collection of rights and duties may be vested in some real or imaginary beings to whom personality is attributed by law. The Heriditas Jacens under the Romans law is a peculiar example of such a legal personality. The law conferred legal personality on the dead man until the heir had entered upon his inheritance. It may be noted that the English law as well as Indian law does not recognize the fiction of heriditas jacens and the estate of deceased vests ipso facto in his heirs and successors immediately after his death.
  • Fitzrgerald the learned editor of Salmond’s Jurisprudence writes that legal persons, being the arbitrary creations of the law, maybe of several kinds.

The English law recognizes only a few kinds of legal persons which include

(1) Corporations

(2) Institutions such as trade unions and societies and associations and

( 3) the estate or funds.

What is Corporate Personality?

The creation of law is termed as Corporate personality. English law as well as Indian law has recognized the legal personality of corporations. A corporation is an artificial person enjoying the law capacity to have rights and duties and holding property. The individuals forming the corpus of the corporation are called its members.

Juristic personality of corporations presupposes the existence of three conditions. Firstly there must be a group or body of human beings associated with a certain purpose. Secondly, there must be organs through which the corporation functions, and thirdly the corporation is attributed will (animus) by legal fiction. It is significant to note that a corporation is distinct from its individual members[11]. It has a legal personality of its own and it can sue and be sued in its own name.  A corporation can act only through its agents. Law provides special procedures [12] for the winding up of a corporate body.  The rights of corporations are numerous, such as the right of holding property or disposing t of, right of entering into contracts or rights to sue, etc. They are liable for their acts and also the acts performed by their agents on their behalf.  Besides, Corporations the banks, railways, universities, colleges, churches, temples, hospitals, etc are also conferred legal personalities.

The Privy Council in its landmark decision in The Citizen’s Life Assurance Company v. Brown[13] held that a corporation may also be held liable for their acts implying malicious intention.

Conclusion

The main object of the law is to regulate the relationship between individuals in society.

In India in various statues [14]also an unborn has been defined as a legal person by fiction. An unborn acquires right only after being born alive. Even in the Ayodhya land dispute case, the suit was given in the favour of Lord Ram as he was a juristic person and has the right to hold property and the scope of Art 21 of the Indian Constitution is very wide as it also protects the right and liberty of juristic persons as well.  Even the Union of India and the State are also recognized as legal or juristic persons.[15]At last I want to state the difference between Guru Grant Sahib and other religious books like Geeta, Quran, etc Guru Granth Sahib is not a mere book, It is more than that and this book is treated as Guru According to the statement of Guru Govind Singh – “I am the last Guru” It was the will of Guru Govind Singh that Sikh will treat Guru Granth Sahib as Guru only and will worship it. Religiously Guru Granth Sahib has the status of a Guru. Thus, it is personified and Corpus has created which law considers as a legal person but this personification is not found in any other books  Geeta, Quran, etc only contain words of God, But is not God on its own.


[1] 1925 LR 52 : Ind.App.245

[2] (1935) AC 209.

[3]  Section 312,313 and 316, I.P.C.

[4] (1919) 2KB 125

[5]  AIR 1955 SC 133

[6] AIR 1925 Lah 372

[7] (1940) 67 IA 251.

[8] (2000) 4 SCC 186

[9] Fitzgerald, P.J: Salmond on Jurisprudence, (12th ed), p.306.

[10] Fitzgerald, P.J: Salmond on Jurisprudence, (12th ed), p.306.

[11] Section 34 of Companies Act 1956

[12] Section 433 to 526 of the Companies Act, 1956

[13] (1904) AC 426

[14] Sec 13 TPA act 1882 deals with transfer of property for the benefit of unborn

[15] Article 300 of the Constitution of India

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