Understanding The Concept Of Legal Personality In Detail
Understanding The Concept Of Legal Personality In Detail



  1. Introduction
  2. Origin of the concept of Legal personality
  3. Definition of legal personality
  4. Types of persons
  5. Legal personality of Unborn Person
  6. Legal personality of a Dead Person
  7. Legal personality of a Lower Animal
  8. Legal personality of Idol and Mosque
  9. Conclusion


1)   Introduction

The main object of the law is to regulate the relationship between the individuals in the society. The individuals concerned must be not only human beings but persons in the eyes of law. The law being concerned with regulating the human conduct, the concept of legal personality is an important subject matter of the law because rights and duties cannot be there without a person.

2)   Origin of the concept of Legal personality

The word person is derived from “persona” which is a Latin word meaning of which is a mask. Until the sixth century, this particular word denoted the part played by man in his life. Later it started to be used in the sense of a living being which could be conferred with rights and duties.

3)   Definition of legal personality

Many jurists have defined persons in many ways. Salmond says that a person is a being whom law regards to be capable of rights and duties.

A juristic person may not be a human being necessarily it may be any other thing which law considers as a person. It confers a legal status which is able to possess rights and duties. Hence legal personality may be a thing, a mass property or a group of people as a legal personality in the eye of law.


4)    Types of persons

There are two kinds of legal persons recognized in law-

  • Natural person- Natural person means a living human being, but all human being is not recognized as natural person in the eye of law. For example- a lunatic, idiot, a minor is not a natural person because they cannot possess rights and duties.


  • Legal persons- it may be anything which is considered by law as a legal person. Legal personality is the creation of law by conferring rights and duties. It is imaginary or artificial in nature.

5)   Legal personality of Unborn Person


Law attributes legal personality to unborn person as well. It means a child who is not even born and is only conceived in the mother’s womb. It means Law confers legal personality on an unborn too provided that such child shall be born subsequently.

Under different laws, there are following policies-

  • HINDU LAW- it provides the provision for the transfer of property in favor of the unborn. A gift can be made in favor of a child who exists in the womb of her mother.


In partition, a share of property will be allotted to the unborn child as well. If it is not done the child after his birth can challenge partition and can claim his share.


Section 20 of the Hindu Succession Act provides that unborn child will have same right to inherit the property as if he had been born at the time of death of intestate.


  • INDIAN PENAL CODE- Explanation III of section 299 provides that causing death of a child in its mother’s womb is culpable homicide though it is not born completely but if any part of the child has come forth, it is punishable according to the law.


  • CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CODE- Section 416 of this law provides that if any pregnant woman is punished with death sentence, such order cannot be executed till her delivery.


  • MEDICAL TERMINATION OF PREGNANCY ACT- This act provides that abortion should not be done after 18-20 weeks of pregnancy because till this period fetus is fully developed hence it turns into the crime. There is a provision made that if doctor feels that termination of pregnancy is necessary for the sake of the life of mother, it can be done.


  • INDIAN SUCCESSION ACT & TRANSFER OF PROPERTY ACT- section 113 of former and 13 of later provides that there can be a valid transfer in favor of a person unborn. These sections provide some requirements to be fulfilled. Such as, if such transfer is of limited interest in favor of a living person and at the time of his death unborn person must be alive thereafter once he born absolute right must be given to him after attaining majority.


  • LAW OF TORT- law of tort does not have the clear recognition of an unborn person.


  • Pinchin N.O vs. Santam Insurance Co. 1963 it was held that an action may be taken by a child who was born with deformity caused to him due to the pre-natal injury to her mother.


  • Walker vs. Great Northern Railway, 1890 in this case it was held that a child who got deformity because her mother met with an accident while traveling in train in her pregnancy cannot claim damages.


  • Montreal Tramways vs. Levill, Co. 1933 Supreme Court of Canada held that if mother met an accident at the time of her pregnancy and due to it some injury was caused to the infant, that child can file a case to claim damages.

6)   Legal personality of a Dead Person

As Salmond says that personality is created with the birth and ends with the death because in the eyes of law dead men are no more a legal personality. Reason behind this concept is that a person is no more able to hold the rights and duties.

However, the law protects the following rights of a dead person-

  • Body- Right of deceased body is protected under law. Although the body is nobody’s property still it is the duty of government to ensure decent cremation. There are rules regarding the burial of unclaimed dead bodies. Grave violation is an offence.


  • Reputation- To some extent law protects the reputation of a dead person. If the defamation of a dead person affects the rights of his family members it is punishable under the law. There is a maxim “De mortius nil nisi bonum” which means neither dead have rights nor can suffer wrong.


As per the explanation of section 499 of Indian Penal Code if there is any accusation against a deceased person it may amount to defamation and it will be presumed that by doing so the living people of the family of deceased are defamed.


  • Property- A person’s desire about the devolution of property will be given respect. Any movable or immovable property of such dead person will be transferred according to the testament made by him.



  • Williams vs. William, it was held that earlier a person could not make a will regarding the disposal of his body but now it is completely legal for living person to donates his eyes to somebody after his death by way of will.


  • Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan vs. Union of India[i], Supreme Court held that even a homeless person who was found dead on road has the right of decent burial as per his religious faith.

7)   Legal personality of a Lower Animal

Law never recognized the animals as legal personality, they are things, therefore, animals are not the subjects of legal rights and duties. An Animal cannot possess rights and duties. The modern law personifies the interest of animal.

A wrong caused to an animal or pet may be a wrong caused to its master. In the same way if a wrong is caused by a pet his master shall always be liable for the same. An animal cannot own any property in his name but law still recognizes rights of animals in following ways-

  1. If a trust is created for a group of animals and not any particular animal, such trust will be treated as public trust and is protected as a right of those animals under the provisions of law.


  1. Also, an animal cannot be treated with cruelty under the provisions of certain laws, even though it may be considered a wrong against public at large and not against it individually.

Provision has been given under Art 48 of Indian Constitution for protection of environment, forests, and animals and further, it is said that laws shall be made by states to protect the same.

One of the examples in this context is – Police use dogs for investigation of any crime. Dogs help in the detection of crime and criminals but still, conviction is only possible of those criminals when there is some corroborative evidence. The reason behind this position is that a dog cannot be cross-examined at the time of trial.



  • Jamnabai Vs.Khimji and Lalla Prasad vs. Brahmanand, 1953 in these cases Supreme Court held that it is legal if a trust is created for the benefit of animals. There are many Non government organizations working for the protection of animal life. The central as well as State governments make the laws for the protection and preservation of wildlife.

8)   Legal personality of Idol and Mosque[ii]

The idol is recognized by the judiciary as a juristic person as it can hold the property in its name. Position is same as the position of a minor. A guardian is required to be there for the management of such property.



  • Pramathanath Mullick vs.Pradumna Kumar Mullick[iii] Privy Council held that idol is a juristic person and can put its point of view in the court through the uninterested next friend.


  • Devkinandan vs. Murlidhar[iv] in this case Supreme Court held that property of idol or a temple vests in idol only but its management remains with the Shebait.


  • Krishna Singh vs. Mathura[v] in this case Supreme Court differentiated between the legal position of a math and a temple. Math is a religious institution presiding element of which is Mahant the property belongs to Math is attached to Mahant which passes on through in inheritance but in case of temple presiding element is the deity.


  • Maula Bux vs. Hafizuddin [vi] it was held by the Lahore High Court that a mosque being juristic person can be sued.


  • Sriomani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee vs. Somnath Das [vii] it was held by the Supreme Court that Guru Granth Sahib which is a holy Granth of Sikhs, is juristic person. It cannot be compared with Hindu idols because it is contrary to Sikh religious belief to worship idols. They respect Guru Granth Sahib same as Hindus respect their idols.


9)   Conclusion

Thus personality in law is a wider term. It is different than humanity. Humanity refers to being born as a human being. On the other hand personality is a concept where an entity enjoys rights and duties with respect to the fact of its existence.

A non human can be a legal person for the purpose of the law, for example an idol placed in a temple. On the other hand, a human being may not be considered a legal person sometimes, for example slaves in ancient times that were treated as mere chattels of their owners and not a person.

The concept of legal personality is basically related to the fact of rights and duties attached to them and certain immunities and responsibilities attached to them.

Hence there is a vast difference between a human and a legal person as human is the existence given by nature whereas legal person is a fiction created by act of law.




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