Artificial personality, juridical personality, or juristic personality is the characteristic of a non-living entity regarded by law to have the status of personhood.
A juridical or artificial person (Latin: persona ficta; also juristic person) has a legal name and has certain rights, protections, privileges, responsibilities, and liabilities in law, similar to those of a natural person. The concept of a juridical person is a fundamental legal fiction. It is pertinent to the philosophy of law, as it is essential to laws affecting a corporation (corporations law).
Juridical personhood allows one or more natural persons (universitas personarum) to act as a single entity (body corporate) for legal purposes. In many jurisdictions, artificial personality allows that entity to be considered under law separately from its individual members (for example in a company limited by shares, its shareholders). They may sue and be sued, enter contracts, incur debt, and own property. Entities with legal personality may also be subjected to certain legal obligations, such as the payment of taxes. An entity with legal personality may shield its members from personal liability.
In some common law jurisdictions a distinction is drawn between corporation aggregate (such as a company, which is composed of a number of members) and a corporation sole, which is a public office of legal personality separated from the individual holding the office; (both entities have separate legal personality). Historically most corporations sole were ecclesiastical in nature (for example, the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury is a corporation sole), but a number of other public offices are now formed as corporations sole.
The concept of juridical personality is not absolute. "Piercing the corporate veil" refers to looking at the individual natural persons acting as agents involved in a company action or decision; this may result in a legal decision in which the rights or duties of a corporation or public limited company are treated as the rights or liabilities of that corporation's members or directors.
The concept of a juridical person is now central to Western law in both common-law and civil-law countries, but it is also found in virtually every legal system.
Some examples of juridical persons include:
- Cooperatives (co-ops), business organization owned and democratically operated by a group of individuals for their mutual benefit
- Corporations are bodies corporate created by statute or charter. A corporation sole is a corporation constituted by a single member, in a particular capacity, and that person's successors in the same capacity, in order to give them some legal benefit or advantage, particularly that of perpetuity, which a natural person could not have had. Examples are a religious officiant in that capacity, or The Crown in the Commonwealth realms. A corporation aggregate is a corporation constituted by more than one member.
- Unincorporated associations, that is aggregates of two or more persons, are treated as juridical persons in some jurisdictions but not others.
- Partnerships, an aggregate of two or more persons to carry on a business in common for profit and created by agreement. Traditionally, partnerships did not have continuing legal personality, but many jurisdictions now treat them as having an independent legal personality.
- Companies, a form of business association that carries on an industrial enterprise, are often corporations, although companies may take other forms, such as trade unions, unlimited companies, trusts, and funds. Limited liability companies—be they a private company limited by guarantee, private company limited by shares, or public limited company—are entities having certain characteristics of both a corporation and a partnership. Different types have a complex variety of advantages and disadvantages.
- Sovereign states are legal persons.
- In the international legal system, various organizations possess legal personality. These include intergovernmental organizations (the United Nations, the Council of Europe) and some other international organizations (including the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a religious order).
- The European Union (EU) has legal personality since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force on 1 December 2009. That the EU has legal personality is a prerequisite for the EU to join the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). However, in 2014, the EU decided not to be bound by the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.
- Temples, in some legal systems, have separate legal personality.
- The Whanganui River was granted legal personality in March 2017 under New Zealand law because the Whanganui Māori tribe regard the river as their ancestor.
- Also, in March 2017, the High Court of Uttarakhand declared the Ganges River a legal "person" in a move that according to one newspaper, "could help in efforts to clean the pollution-choked rivers". As of 6 April 2017, the ruling has been commented on in Indian newspapers to be hard to enforce, with assertions that experts do not anticipate immediate benefits, that the ruling is "hardly game changing", that experts believe "any follow-up action is unlikely", and that the "judgment is deficient to the extent it acted without hearing others (in states outside Uttarakhand) who have stakes in the matter".
Not all organizations have legal personality. For example, the board of directors of a corporation, legislature, or governmental agency typically are not legal persons in that they have no ability to exercise legal rights independent of the corporation or political body which they are a part of.