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Concept of Natural Legal Personality in English Law

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Published: Mon, 15 Jan 2018

Discuss the  drawing examples from your studies, bibliography.

Natural law is the law that exists independently of the positive law of a given political order, society or nation state. As a genre, natural law is the law of nature that is the theory that some things are as they are because they are. The central theme of the theory us that there are natural rights that are given to every human being by God.[1]

Legal personality has been defined to express the ability of self to remove himself from all particularities such as family, personal history, social and cultural background and to become abstract and indeterminate. Legal recognition is a type of recognition based on the minimum commonality of people and not on the differences and individual characteristics which make them unique individuals.[2] A legal person is a bearer of subjective right.[3] Legal personality can either be natural or juristic.

Natural legal personality is therefore the legal status allocated to every human being by the mere fact of their existence by God. So, every body has Natural Legal Personality regardless of where they are from and under what political regime they live. Having said that, It is doubtful that this is highly relevant in England today. This essay focuses on the concept and illustrations of its applicability and limitations.

The concept of natural legal personality is hardly ever mentioned these days. This is possibly because there are not many rights that are attributable to natural legal persons. Even in the realm of Public International Law where there are laws that are attributable to persons by the mere fact that they are human by way of human right provisions, enforceability for instance, is almost impossible in the absence of the state.

In the realm of private law, where legal personality becomes more relevant, an individual’s autonomy exists only in a very restricted and figurative sense. A person cannot grant rights to himself because rights of one person necessary presupposes obligations on another and such a legal connection can only be made in conformity with an objective legal system by way of a consonant expression of will by the two parties. Even this legal connection only exists in so far as the contract is established by the objective law as a law-creating material fact. So, in private law, there is no complete autonomy.[4] The mere use of the word ‘legal’ seems to suggest the lack of such autonomy.

Practical applications of the concept of Legal Personality exist. Sometimes, so-called natural ‘legal’ are restricted in their exercise of rights that have been attributed to others. In the realm of contract, the general rule in English Law is that anyone may enter into legally binding contracts if they want to. However, a restriction exists to the effect that minors as defined under the Family Law Reform Act 1969 and people that are mentally incompetent are incapable of entering into binding contracts except for the supply of necessaries.[5] In the case of Moulton v. Camroux[6], It was held that unsoundness of mind constituted an adequate defence in a case for the enforcement of a contract.

Also under the realm of Contract Law, non natural persons are attributed rights that would normally only be attributed to natural persons.

In the realm of criminal law, some categories of people may have their culpability reduced by virtue of their age or soundness of mind. A proved plea of insanity would mean that someone that has committed a crime is not punished in the same way other legal persons.[7] In the case of R v Sullivan[8], on a charge for causing grievous bodily harm, on appeal to the House of Lords, It was held that the trial court’s ruling of ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ was appropriate. The same applies if the person is underage. He or she is not punished the same way a fully grown adult would be.

In the realm of company law, legal personality has been attributed to non natural persons. They are attributed with corporate personality. Such persons are known as juristic or artificial persons as opposed to natural persons. For legal purposes, they have the same rights and obligations as natural persons. They are capable of suing and being sued as an entity quite apart from the members. The implications of this personality were fully determined in the case of Salomon v Salomon[9]. In that case, It was held inter alia that at law, a company is a different entity from the subscribers to its memorandum of association. The members of a company are therefore not personally liable for its debts s that unless there are contrary provisions, the members are completely free form liability.[10]

The above discussion seems to suggest that the concept of natural legal personality, if it actually exists, is not really relevant in English Law. The mere use of the word ‘legal’ would suggest the existence of a state or other body. There is also the problem of how the natural rights are determined since a right for one person necessary constitutes an obligation for another. This suggests the necessary existence of some sort of agreement by the two parties which in turn, needs to be governed by certain rules. In terms of practical application, most laws prescribe their own definitions of ‘legal persons’ and the limitations to this personality.

The concept of natural legal personality does not exist in English Law and even if it did, It would merely be normative in nature and effect.

Bibliography

Davies, P. “Gower’s Principles of Modern Company Law” (1998) London: Sweet and Mawell.

Douzinas, C. and Gearey, A. “Critical Juriisprudence: The Political Philosophy of Justice” (2005) Oxford: Hart Publishing.

Kelsen, H. “Introduction to the Problames of Legal Theory” (2002) Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Neuhouser, F. (Eds) “Foundations of Natural Right” (2000) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Statute

Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act 1964

Sale of Goods Act 1979

Cases

Moulton v. Camroux 2 Ex 487

R v Sullivan [1983] 2 All ER 673

Salomon v Salomon [1897] A.C. 22 H.L.

Web Resources

The Free Dictionary <http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/p/Natural+law>

[1] The Free Dictionary <http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/p/Natural+law>

[2] Douzinas, C. and Gearey, A. “Critical Juriisprudence: The Political Philosophy of Justice” (2005) Oxford: Hart Publishing. Page 182

[3] Kelsen, H. “Introduction to the Problames of Legal Theory” (2002) Oxford: Oxford University Press. Page 39

[4] Kelsen, H. “Introduction to the Problames of Legal Theory” (2002) Oxford: Oxford University Press. Page 40.

[5] Section 3 Sale of Goods Act 1979

[6] 2 Ex 487

[7] Under Sections 2(1) and 5 (1) of the Criminal Procedure (Insanity) Act 1964

[8] [1983] 2 All ER 673

[9] [1897] A.C. 22 H.L.

[10] Davies, P. “Gower’s Principles of Modern Company Law” (1998) London: Sweet and Mawell. Pages 77-78 and 80.


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