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  • Ansuman Barik

CONTRACTUAL CAPACITY MINORS AND PERSONS OF UNSOUND MIND

Ansuman Barik,

Christ (Deemed to be University), Bangalore

CONTRACTUAL CAPACITY MINORS AND PERSONS OF UNSOUND MIND

The Indian Contract Act, 1872 is one of those important legislations that helps parties  to enter into an agreement and obligates the parties to perform it. However, the complexities arise when there is an agreement with a minor or a person of unsound mind. The act does not consider contracts with minors or a person with unsound mind as valid. Therefore, it is important to understand the logic of incorporating or declaring these contracts void and to ensure compliance while dealing with agreements with a minor or a person of unsound mind as per the Indian Contract Act,1872.

CONTRACT WITH A MINOR

A minor is a person who has not reached the age of majority to enter into any agreement as set by the domestic laws. In India, as per the  Indian Contract Act, 1872, the legal age to attain majority is 18 years. However, complexities arise when the court allots a minor with a guardian, the minor will attain majority at the age of 21 years. This created a complexity and ambiguity. Subsequently, the issue was resolved through amendments.

As per the Indian Contract Act,1872, a minor is a person who is incompetent to enter into an agreement or a contract. These agreements are considered null and void and are not enforceable by laws. The law bars minors from entering into a contract because the law considers that the minors are incapable of understanding the factual metrics while entering into a contract which may result in minors getting into trouble.

NATURE OF MINOR’S AGREEMENT

A transaction with a minor is void and has no legal significance. This indicates that under such a contract, neither party has any enforceable obligations. An agreement with a minor is regarded by the law as void from the outset and is therefore regarded as having never been made.

Consequently, neither party is legally obligated to fulfill any obligations or commitments arising from the agreement. By ensuring that the legal system acknowledges that minors lack the full capacity to enter into legally binding agreements, the concept of a void minor's agreement serves to safeguard the rights and interests of minors.

RULES AND REGULATIONS FOR MINOR’S AGREEMENT

  1. An agreement with a minor is void

Section 11 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872 talks about who are incompetent to contract. And it is explicitly stated that minors are not competent to contract. Any agreement with a minor is null and void. The case of Mohri Bibi v. Dharmo Das Ghose (1903) was clear depiction of a contract with a minor is void. In this instance, Brahmo Dutt, a moneylender, gave a loan to a minor named Dharmodas Ghose via his agent Kedar Nath. Dharmodas was legally a minor at the time of the agreement because he was still under the age of 18. Dharmodas's minority status was disclosed in writing to the moneylender by his mother, who was also his legal guardian. The moneylender went ahead and completed the transaction in spite of this.

Later, Dharmodas attempted to have the mortgage voided through his mother, claiming that since he was underage, the contract was null and void. Dharmodas had lied about his age, according to the moneylender, who demanded payment for the loan repayment.

Here, the court ruled that minors are legally incompetent to enter into contracts. And any contract that entered with minors is considered null and void.So, the moneylender was not allowed to recover the money from the minor.

  1. No Ratification

A contract by a minor cannot be ratified even after attaining majority because any agreement with or by a minor is void. As per the act, a minor is incompetent to contract. However, if the minor after attaining majority makes a fresh promise it will be binding and can be enforced.

  1. Minor as a promisee or beneficiary

A minor has the legal authority to enforce a contract in which they are a promisee or beneficiary. A minor can be a beneficiary without any restrictions, unlike a payee or promisee in a contract. Therefore, a minor who purchases real estate may file a lawsuit to reclaim it by paying the full purchase price. Similarly, a promissory note made payable to a minor can be enforced by the minor.

  1. No estoppel is applicable against a minor

A minor cannot be held responsible for a contract they enter into if they fabricate their age in order to convince someone to sign it. Minors are exempt from the estoppel principle, which ordinarily forbids someone from breaking a promise. This means that a minor is not bound by agreements made under false promise and can still use their age as a defense to void the agreement. This legal protection makes sure minors aren't wrongfully forced into agreements they don't have the legal capacity to sign.

However, if a minor has received any benefit out of the contract then he/she has to pay for the benefits received.

  1. Partnership

Since a minor lacks the legal capacity to sign binding contracts, they are not permitted to join as partners in a partnership. A minor, however, may be permitted to take advantage of an established partnership. This implies that the minor may keep a portion of the partnership's earnings even though they are not permitted to actively manage the business or assume its debts. After attaining the age of majority, the minor has six months to reply, whether he wants to continue as a minor partner or act as a full fledged partner as per the Indian Partnership Act.

  1. Liability of minor for necessaries supplied

A minor's property alone may be held accountable for contracts, per Section 68 of the Indian Contract Act, 1872. The minor is not personally liable for any contracts. The provider will not be compensated for the necessities if the minor has no property. Should the minor possess property, the provider is only eligible for a fair price. What is meant by "necessaries" is stuff that one needs to keep oneself in the proper state, degree, and station in life. In India, clothing, food, shelter, and education are all regarded as necessities.

CONTRACT WITH PERSON OF UNSOUND MIND

Under the Indian Contract Act of 1872 individuals who are unable to understand the implications of their actions or make rational decisions are unfit to enter into a contract. Contracts entered into by individuals lacking mental capacity are void as per Section 12 of the Act. For a contract to be voidable it must be proven that the parties were in a position of understanding the facts when entering into it and did not grasp its nature and consequences of such agreements. This provision serves to safeguard individuals who lack mental capacity to understand things, from being taken advantage of in agreements.

TEST FOR DETERMINING A PERSON OF UNSOUND MIND

1. Model Penal Code Test

The Model Penal Code Test was introduced by the American Law Institute in 1962 after several criticisms of different tests such as M’Naghten rule, Durham Test and Irresistible Impulse test. It is the amalgamation of all these tests and is much broader in scope. According to this test, if a person commits any crime, and that time he is not able to understand the consequences of such actions due to some mental illness or defect, he is not responsible for such actions. It also mandates that the mental illness or defect be a mental diagnosis.

2. M 'Naghten Rule

The initial legal standard for ascertaining criminal insanity was the M'Naghten rule, occasionally written by McNaghten. During Daniel M. Nathten's trial in England in 1843, this test first appeared. Erroneously thinking that Edward Drummond was the prime minister, M'Naghten had shot and killed Drummond, the prime minister's secretary. When M'Naghten was arrested, he stated that he thought "the tories" were planning to kill the prime minister, so he felt compelled to murder him. M'Naghten's defense claimed insanity during his trial, supporting their claim with other evidence and expert testimony. As directed by the judge, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty "by reason of insanity," which resulted in M'Naghten's permanent placement in a mental health facility.A more stringent definition of insanity was developed as a result of the outcry following M'Naghten's acquittal. The M'Naghten rule states that unless a defendant can demonstrate that, at the time of the crime, their mental state prevented them from either(1) understanding what they were doing or(2) understanding what they were doing but not knowing it was wrong, they are presumed sane. The second condition is frequently demonstrated by someone who feels they are following "God's" instructions.

In both the US and the UK, the M'Naghten rule became the accepted definition of insanity. About half of the states in the United States still use it, but other states have substituted other tests, like the Durham Test, the Irresistible Impulse Test, or Model Penal Code Test.

3. Durham Tes 

In the 1954 case of Durham v. United States, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the Durham Rule, which had been first implemented in New Hampshire in 1871. A defendant is not "criminally responsible if his unlawful act is the product of a mental disease or defect," according to this rule, which is also referred to as the "product test."By making the insanity defense more objective, the Durham Rule was meant to simplify the M'Naghten Rule and the Irresistible Impulse Test.

Irresistible impulse test

When a person's mental illness prevents them from exercising self-control, the irresistible impulse test is used to determine whether or not they are not guilty of a crime. They may be found not guilty by reason of insanity if it can be demonstrated that their illness prevented them from resisting the urge to commit the crime.

WHO ARE THE PERSONS OF UNSOUND MIND?

1. Lunatic

A lunatic is a person who is not mentally stable from the beginning since birth or due to some other past experiences. These people suffer from interval sanity and insanity. So, when the person enters into a contract when he is stable or sane, that contract will be considered valid. However, when is not in a proper state of mind, any contract entered by him will be considered void.

2. Mental idiocy

An idiot is a person who has completely lost mental capacity and is incapable of understanding simple everyday issues. Unlike idiocy, which is a lifelong state, lunacy consists of periods of insanity interspersed with discernible intervals of sanity. An agreement made by a fool is voidable because it is regarded the same as one made by a child.

3. Intoxicated Person

A drunk person is similar to that of a lunatic person when he is drunk. He is not in a position to make a rational judgement and understand the facts of the contract during the time of intoxication. So, any contract arising will be considered void.

4. Old Age

When the person has grown and has lost the capacity to understand the facts of the contract and make rational judgements then such contracts will be declared void. However, the courts have also observed that even at extreme old age, if the person is able to understand and use his intelligence to understand the terms of the contracts, then such contracts will stand valid.

BURDEN OF PROOF

In any case, the burden of establishing someone's insanity rests primarily with the individual asserting the claim. This is due to the widespread presumption that an individual is mentally competent. This burden is heavy and cannot be satisfied by merely demonstrating that the signatory did not exhibit symptoms of insanity at the time of the contract's signing.

CASE LAWS

The Inder Singh v. Parmeshwardhari Singh (AIR 1957 Pat 491) concerned an agreement to sell a ₹25,000 property for just ₹7,000. The seller's mother demonstrated that he was a natural-born fool who was unable to comprehend the ramifications of the transaction. The Indian Contract Act's Section 12 requires that anyone entering into a contract understand what they are doing and be able to rationally determine whether the action is in their best interest. Based on this, the court declared the sale to be void. Whether the individual is aware of the transaction and how it will affect their interests is what matters most. This does not imply that they can't be qualified to enter into a contract unless they are insane. Someone could seem normal.Even if someone seems normal, they may still be incapable of making wise decisions. Since the individual in this situation was unable to use sound judgement, the transaction was nullified.

In a renowned case from Halsbury's Laws of England, the court clarified that consent necessitates careful consideration and reason. A contract with an insane person is usually deemed void due to the absence of rational consent. In other words, no one who is not of sound mind can sign a legal contract.

CONCLUSION

Ultimately, in order to safeguard their interests, a minor and a person mentally ill have severely limited contractual capacity. With the exception of necessities, minors are typically not able to sign legally binding contracts because they do not yet have the mental capacity to fully comprehend and consent to such agreements. In a similar vein, people who are mentally ill are unable to sign legal contracts because their judgment and comprehension are compromised. These safeguards guarantee equity and stop abuse. Legal systems place a high priority on the welfare of these people, nullifying or declaring voidable any agreements entered into by parties lacking the mental capacity required to fully understand the implications.

REFERENCES

1.Maitri Raj Tiwari, A Study of Minor's Capacity to Contract, 4 INDIAN J.L. & LEGAL  RSCH. 1 (2022).

 

 

 

 

 

    

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