The difficult task of defining “person”

“Definition is an attempt to state in precise terms the meaning of a word or of an expression. In legislation it should be used only as an aid to clarity and to reduce vagueness as much as possible. It should be used only when necessary and should be as complete as possible.”


If you join a law school, the first thing they will tell you on the first day of class is this: “you are not the only person in this world!” They will tel you that there are also other persons having rights and duties just like you. You may be confused for the time being, but at the end of the first class, you will realize that these so called “other persons” are not natural or physical persons. They are simply fictions of the law and are assigned names like artificial persons, juridical persons legal persons etc.. After 5 or more years the whole concept of law of persons seems easy to comprehend. That may be true. But, imagine someone asking you the definition of a person years after your graduation from law school. How do you define it? Just before making any attempt  you should see how “person” is defined by different drafters.  Personally I am not concerned with content of the specific definition. But I am highly critical of the lack of uniformity which may ultimately lead to ambiguity and confusion.

So, what is “person?”

Definition One

“Person” means a natural or juridical person.

This is more or less the standard definition in most of the statutes.  For instance, you may see Article 2(32) of Federal Government of Ethiopia Financial Administration Proclamation No. 648/2009, Article of 2(3) of both Employment Exchange Services Proclamation No. 632/2009 and  Flag Proclamation No. 654/2009.

Definition Two

“Person” mean a physical or juridical person ( Article 2(19) of Freedom of the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation No. 590/2008)

Compare definition one and two. Is there any difference between ” a natural” and ” a physical”?

Definition Three

“Person” means any natural or juridical person

Person is defined in this way in article 2(16) of Quality and Standards Authority of Ethiopia Establishment Proclamation No. 102/1998 and article 2(23) of Ethiopian National Archives and Library Proclamation No. 179/1999.

What does the word “any” signify here? is “a natural” the same “any natural?”

Definition Four

“Person” means any physical or juridical person ( article 2(22) of  Drug Administration and Control Proclamation No. 176/1999.)

any physical? Now I am totally confused. I need to to take law of persons ( or may be the law of “any persons!” ) class again.

Definition Five

“Person” means any natural person or juridical organization (article 2(3)  of Fertilizer Manufacturing and Trade Proclamation No.137/1998.)

Here juridical person is substituted by  juridical organization.

Definition Six

“Person” means any physical or legal person. (Article 2(13) of Health Proclamation No. 200/2000.)

It seems there is no end. Is legal person different from juridical person or juridical organization?

Definition Seven

“Person” means any natural person or any organization irrespective of having juridical personality

( 2(8) Stamp Duty Proclamation No. 110/1998)

What type of person is this definition referring to? is it even a person?

More Definitions: no Comment!

  • “Book” means any published document which contains non-current news and consisting of not less than
    forty nine pages
  • “Publisher” means any publisher in the country
  • “Printing Press” means any entity in the country carrying on printing activities;

(  Ethiopian  National Archives and Library Proclamation  No. 179/1999)

  • “motor vehicle” means any type of wheeled vehicle moving by mechanical or electrical power for use on road
  • “road” means any road, street, highway, rural road or any other travel route, customarily used by vehicles other than private roads not open to all traffic

( Driver’s Qualification Certification License Proclamation No. 600/2008)

  • “worker” means shall have the meaning as defined in the Labour Proclamation No. 377/2003, and includes job seekers as appropriate
  • “employer” means shall have the meaning as defined in the Labour Proclamation No. .377/2003

(Employment Exchange Services Proclamation No. 632/2009)

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