Rights and duties : Jurisprudence

Rights and Duties: Jurisprudence

The development of society is based on the constant evolution of law. When people meet one another, they have certain rights and duties obligated towards each other. A right and duty are believed to be the pillars of law and are consequently protected by it. The mentioned terms are very much related and almost impossible to separate.

Right defined:

The definition of rights has been given by various famous legal philosophers. Some of them are as follows –

  • John Salmond – Salmond defines right as an interest recognised and protected by a rule or justice. According to him, ‘for an interest to be regarded as a legal right, it should obtain not merely legal protection but also recognition.’
  • Gray – According to him a legal right is “that power which a man has to make a person or persons do or refrain from doing a certain act or certain acts, so far as the power arises from society imposing a legal duty upon a person or persons.”

Duty defined:

A duty is an obligatory act. It is something to do or abstain from doing in favour of another person. A man has a duty towards any matter that he is legally obligated to. The term legal duty has been defined in the following ways –

  • Keaton – A duty is an act of forbearance which is enforced by the state in respect of a right vested in another and breach of which is a wrong.
  • Salmond – A duty is roughly speaking an act which one ought to do, an act the opposite of which would be a wrong.


It is an agreed fact that rights and duties are co-existent. Although there exists a difference in opinion whether there must be a right that correlates to the duty.

Salmond says that there can be no right without a corresponding duty and no duty without a corresponding right. According to this, every duty must be a duty towards a person or some person, in whom a correlative right is vested and conversely every right must be a right against some persons upon whom, a correlative duty is imposed. Every right and duty have a bond of legal obligation. Austin has stated that rights are interdependent, not correlative, contrary to Salmond’s opinions. He has classified them into relative and absolute duties as explained above.

As there is a close relationship between the body and soul, there is a relationship between the rights and duties.

Professor Laski finds the following points of relationship between the rights and duties:

  • The right of one is related to the duty of the other:

If one has the right, the other has the duty related to that right. If one enjoys the right, it becomes the duty of the other not to prove an obstacle in the enjoyment of his right. For example, if I enjoy the right to life it is the duty of others not to cause any harm to my life.

  • The duty of the one is the right of the other and vice versa:

If I possess rights, I owe duties also. As we treat others so others will treat us. If the other has the right to life and security, it is our duty that I should not cause any harm to his life and security. To give proper respect and regard to the rights of others is our duty.

  • The state guarantees the enjoyment of certain rights to every individual:

But at the same time, it becomes the duty of the individual that he should make the use of those rights for promoting the common welfare. For example, if I have the right to vote, it becomes my duty that I should cast my vote in favour of a deserving candidate. While casting my vote, I should not allow my prejudice to work. I should not be influenced by the distinction of caste and creed, rich and poor, black and white, etc.

  • If the state protects me in the enjoyment of my rights:

It becomes my cardinal duty to serve the state in full spirit. If rights spring to us from the becomes our duty to perform certain duties towards the state. If the state protects us, it becomes our cardinal duty that we should pay taxes regularly and s remain faithful and loyal to the state. Treachery is a crime.

Thus, it is quite clear that rights and duties are so closely related to each other, that they cannot be separated from each other. If every individual pay ‘attention only to his rights and does not perform his duties to others, rights of individual will cease to exist.


There is a close relationship between the rights and duties. They are the same conditions viewed from different angles. They are the two sides of the same coin. If we have the right to speech, writing, wandering, running institutions and any religion we like, it is our duty, at the same time that we should not spread evils in society by our writing work or by our lectures.

If we have the right to vote, we should make the proper use of this right and cast our vote in favour of the honest and deserving candidate. If we have the right to make the use of roads for our vehicles, it becomes, at the same time, our duty that we should keep to the left to avoid accidents.


  • Joseph W. Bingham, “The Nature of Legal Rights and Duties”, 12(1) Michigan Law Review, 1913, pp. 1-26.
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