January 27, 2022

Legal Status and Rights of Lunatic and Drunken Person

Definition of a person

Under the eyes of law, a person is anyone who has some legal duties as well as certain legal rights. A person may even be real or imaginary.

Let us now discuss the legal status of lunatic and drunken person.

Definition of a legal status

The term person has been derived from the Latin word ‘persona’ which means mask worn by artists for playing different roles.

Legal entities can be divided into two parts:-

  • Human (person)
  • Non human (company or corporation)

Non human legal entities also have the same legal rights and duties like that of human legal entities.

Law of status also deals with persons who do not enjoy privilege of being legal entities but society has some legal duties towards them. Such persons include unborn child, lunatic or drunken person.

Legal status of lunatic and drunken person

Status of lunatic and drunken person have some special position. They are natural persons and have legal identity but are not capable o enter into contract. If at the time of entering into a contract lunatic or drunken person is incapable of understanding the nature of contract, then they are considered to be incapable of entering into a contract.

Difference between natural and legal person

1. A natural person is a real human being whereas a legal person may be real or imaginary.

2. A natural person does not recognize an idiot, corporation, etc but a legal person is divided into different categories like companies, corporations, etc.

3. A natural person exists only for a limited period whereas a legal entity exists for unlimited time period.

Law of contract provisions for Lunatics

By virtue of S. 12 of Indian Contract Act 1872, a sane person can be said as person who while entering into a contract, understands the nature of contract and hence can form rational judgment regarding the same. Therefore we can say that a person is said to be of unsound mind if he is not capable to understand the nature of contract and is unable to form a reasonable judgment. As per S. 11 of this Act, if a person of unsound mind enters into a contract, it will be declared as void.

Now, a person of unsound mind can be a lunatic or an idiot.

o IDIOT- A person who is of unsound mind by birth or permanently of unsound mind is said to be an idiot. Therefore, the contracts entered upon by him are void-ab-initio.

o LUNATIC- A person who is not permanently of unsound mind but during specific periods he is of sound mind is regarded as a lunatic. They are allowed to enter into a contract only during a period of their sanity.

Insanity/lunatic – Mc’naghten rule

In 1843, the law of insanity was formulated in the case of R v. Mc’Naghten[1]

Principles in Mc’naghten case:-

1. Every person is presumed to have sanity unless the opposite is established.

2. In order to take the plea of insanity, it has to be proved that at the time of committing the crime the person was so insane that he didn’t understand the nature of the act or had no idea that the act he was doing was of criminal nature.

3. The test of wrongfulness of the act is in the ability to distinguish between right and wrong not in general but related to that particular act committed.

Law of Contract provisions for drunken person 

A person having a majority age is considered to be capable of entering into a contract usually. But to a contrary there are certain exceptions as to this that under certain circumstances a drunk person is incapable of entering into a valid contract. Generally the Contractual capacity of a drunken person is regarded same as that of one who is a lunatic. [2]Therefore the burden of proving drunkenness rests on the person asserting it.

Contracts entered into by the drunken person are not binding on him in the following cases :-

1. When he was too drunk to understand the nature of contract ;

2. The opposite party took advantage of it knowing of his condition. [3]

By this it can be assumed that a drunk may ratify the contract entered into by him at the time of his incapability to understand the nature of contract. Also in certain circumstances, an infant, a lunatic and a drunk is bound to pay a price as compensation for goods sold and delivered to him according to Sale of Goods Act (1893). Thus, a drunken and lunatic person has to pay not only when goods are sold to them but even when delivered and also for necessary goods. According to Sale of Goods Act, goods delivered to drunken must be suitable to the condition of his life.

Indian penal code provisions as regards Intoxication 

The provisions for intoxication is provided under Sections 85 and 86 of IPC. The major difference between these is that S.85 deals with a person who is involuntarily intoxicated whereas S.86 is a person who is voluntarily intoxicated. Thus according to S. 85 a person is not liable criminally but in case of S. 86 a person cannot take a defense of intoxication.

Essential elements under S. 85 for a person to be safeguarded from action against him:-

1. The person was incapable of knowing the nature of act committed.

2. He was not in a sense to know the acts were wrong or against law.

3. The act committed by him was as a result of such intoxication.

Where the accused was persuaded by his father to drink alcohol, the plea of defense cannot be taken here since he had the knowledge of drink offered to him.[4]

A similar decision was made in another case. [5]


According to law the term personality has a wider meaning. It differs from the term humanity. Personality can only be defined as a concept whereas entity gets to enjoy rights and duties. In a similar way, non human may be a legal person where every human may not be a legal person. Conclusively it can be said that the whole personality and entity concept is determined by the rights and duties attached to them along with immunities and responsibilities. Therefore it is necessary to have a differentiation between human and legal person in the eyes of law. Insanity and drunkenness therefore hold different impacts on different persons and their periphery. The term lunatic needs to be differentiated on the basis of medical field and legal field. Legal aspect of lunacy lacks reasonableness but at the same time holds the right to live normally in the society.

For more notes on Jurisprudence, click here.


[1] 1843
[2]Compare Molton . Camaroux (1884)
[3]Mathews V. Baxter
[4] Jethu ram v. State of MP 1960
[5] Arun Jaysingh Khandagale v State of Maharashtra 1999

Author Details: Gitika Jain (3rd year BBA LLB, Amity University, Kolkata)

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