Natural Person And Legal Person: Define And Their Differences


In Juridical terms, persons are categorized into two- natural persons and legal persons. Let us begin with an etymological understanding. The word “person” has multiple meanings. Starting from etymology the word was derived from personare. This term denotes larva histrionalis, meaning “mask”. In this manner, the person acted as the mask covering the face of an actor who recited verses during a scene in a play because the purpose of the mask was to make the actor’s voice resonant and loud.

Later, the term was used in reference to the masked actor himself. In view of the above, it is quite understandable to associate the person as a natural being of the human species. Francisco Carnelutti understands “person” in a triangular sense. He views the subject as the vertex in which the personal interest (economic element) and the subjective right (legal element) coincide in a legal relationship.

It is also identified that from 1175- 1225, the Latin word persona is the origin of the legal term person.


In jurisprudence, a person who has its own legal personality is considered a natural person. It usually refers to a living human being. Earlier slaves were not given any privileges of that of a legal person, instead, they were mere natural persons by the virtue of their birth. A natural person gets most of the rights and privileges guaranteed by law along with duties and responsibilities. A natural person can sue and be sued under the law. This does not need any special provisions in the law. Fundamental rights and human rights are usually for the benefit of natural persons.

A natural person will have all the civil rights. A person who is considered as insolvent is death with respect to his/hers civil rights. But it is still unsettled in many places as to whether an unborn child is a natural person. In India, statutes like the Transfer of Property Act, 1882, Acts on succession based on religion, the Indian Succession Act, 1925 etc. deals with the rights of unborn child on property. This gives an image of a natural person to the foetus living inside the womb of the mother.

A natural person has rights such a right to vote, right to marry, right to life, right to privacy, right to travel etc. In a normal sense, these are accessible by humans only, thus these are given to humans alone. These rights are not available to a person unborn. Right to vote and marry may not be even available for citizens who are minors.

In a normal understanding a natural person is a human being who is prudent and reasonable. He has all the rights as that of any person residing in that place. No animal is entitled as a person under law. Only living human beings are considered as natural persons. The birth of a person declares the beginning and death is the end of it. But this does not mean that dead has given no respect or animals are treated cruelly. With respect to dead, we honor the body first, then we consider his reputation and his property.

A dead person cannot be defamed to harm the reputation of the family or to hurt the feelings of the family members. Also, his property cannot be dishonored. Similarly, animals are protected under various statutes. Endangered species, vulnerable species are protected by various government organizations. But these people cannot have the rights of a living human being as regard to the fundamental rights or the right to vote or to sue.

Thus, the natural persons enjoy utmost privileges and responsibilities under the law.


With the growth of jurisprudence, the concept of persons also grew. Humans began to develop entities for their business and transactions. The world was witnessing set of people acting on behalf of entities. The technical problem of suing an entity arose many times. This paved way to the development of another set of persons known as legal persons.

A person or an entity is said to be a legal person, when he/she is eligible to sue or to be sued in a court of law. A legal person can be a State, a company, a trade union, an idol etc. The law personifies and make something as a person. They are called legal persons because the purpose of them getting personified is for the ease in the process of justice administration. The law is giving the capacity to become a person for the purpose of processes in the court of law. The law then treats them as duty bearing persons. They might also get some rights as well.

A person shall be a legal person to get himself presented before law. All-natural persons are considered as legal persons. But all legal persons are not natural persons. A person living in the State of Kerala can be considered as a legal person as well as a natural person, but a company in Bhopal is not a natural person, it just has a legal existence.

A legal personality can be formed by the virtue of position as well. The president or the registrar are legal positions given. No matter who holds the position the official responsibilities are the same. He/she may be sued for the position.

An unborn may be considered as a legal person like a dead man. This is only for the purpose of meeting the ends of law and not considered as valid in the course of ordinary life.

There is something called a corporate personality. This is also a creation of law. Unlike other legal persons a corporate personality has much more rights and duties. It pre-supposes a group of humans associated behind its purpose along with some organs for corporate functions. Although this is considered as legal fiction, it has severed importance in the modern world.


A natural person is a human being whereas a legal person is not. A natural person lives in earth with blood and flesh as a human but a legal person is someone who is capable of doing duties with some guaranteed rights. A legal person is not real. Rights such as right to vote in general elections, right to marry are exclusively given to natural persons and are not available to legal persons. A natural person can function on his own, but a legal person functions on the behalf of one or more natural persons.

A dead person or an unborn child is not usually considered as natural persons (though there are above stated exceptions), whereas there is no such difference in considering a natural person. A natural person cannot live endlessly. Death is definite though it’s unpredictable whereas a legal person can live as long as it exists. The death of a legal person (say a company) is determined by natural persons. The death of such an existence is sometimes predictable.

In conclusion, I would like to add something that happened in USA, a person called Azzam Rahim immigrated to the United States in the 1970s, and eventually became a citizen of this country. In 1995, while visiting the West Bank, Rahim was arrested by intelligence officers with the Palestinian Authority. They imprisoned him in Jericho, where he was tortured and ultimately killed. The following year, the U.S. Department of State issued a report which concluded that Rahim had died while in the officers’ custody.

In 2005, Rahim’s relatives filed a lawsuit against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, citing claims of torture and extrajudicial killing under the Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991 (TVPA). The TVPA authorizes the filing of such a lawsuit for conditions such as these.

The District Court granted the organizations’ motion to dismiss, holding that the TVPA’s authorization of this kind of lawsuit only extended liability to natural persons, so that the organizations themselves (considered “legal persons”) could not be sued.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision on the same grounds. Rahim’s relatives filed a writ of certiorari, which was granted by the Supreme Court, to challenge whether the TVPA did indeed authorize lawsuits to be filed against organizations that could not be defined as “natural persons.”

The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately agreed with both lower courts, holding that the term “individual” as defined by the TVPA only refers to natural persons. Further, the Court held that the TVPA does not allow for liability to be imposed against organizations. Specifically, the Court wrote:

“The ordinary, everyday meaning of ‘individual’ refers to a human being, not an organization, and Congress in the normal course does not employ the word any differently. The Dictionary Act defines ‘person’ to include certain artificial entities ‘as well as individuals,’… thereby marking ‘individual’ as distinct from artificial entities. Federal statutes routinely distinguish between an ‘individual’ and an organizational entity … And the very Congress that passed the TVPA defined ‘person’ in a separate Act to include ‘any individual or entity.’ “

This Article is Authored by ARCHANA P. P, 5th Year B.A. LL. B (Hons) Student at The National University of Advanced Legal Studies.

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