Understanding Right in Rem and Right in Personam


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Introduction: Understanding right in rem and right in personam is essential in navigating legal matters involving property, contracts, and obligations. Originating from Latin terminology, these concepts delineate the scope and enforceability of legal rights within various contexts.

In this article, we’ll delve into the distinction between two distinct rights: Right in Rem and Right in Personam. These terms originate from the Latin expressions “action in rem” and “action in personam,” respectively. Let’s explore their meanings further.

Austin’s Perspective: According to Austin, a right is an individual’s privilege granted by a specific statute, exercised against another person or persons. (Prerogative refers to a right or privilege exclusive to a particular individual or class.)

Holland’s View: Holland defines a legal right as the capacity a person possesses to govern the activities of others with the approval and aid of the state.

Right in Rem

Individuals who enter into contracts inherently possess rights in Rem or intangible rights. These rights are expansive, extending globally to safeguard one’s possessions from theft or unauthorized use anywhere in the universe.

These rights are commonly classified as negative rights due to their function in granting individuals the right to solitude. This implies that others are prohibited from interfering with an individual’s rights. Essentially, these rights are inherent to individuals and can be enforced against other parties.

Right in Personam or Jus in Personam

Right in Personam, also known as Jus in Personam, stands in stark contrast to Right in Rem. It grants legal rights exclusively to an individual or party involved in a contract. Typically, these rights entail obligations imposed upon the specified individual or group.

Distinguish between Right in Rem & Right in Personam

AspectRight in RemRight in Personam
NatureAbsolute right pertaining to the property itselfRelative rights dependent on relationships between parties
ClassificationReal rightPersonal right
ExamplesProperty ownership, copyright, patentsContracts, debts, personal obligations
Classification (Holland)Indefinite kindDefinite kind
Legal ContextTort rightContract right
Relationship ImpactNo relationship establishedRelationship established
TransferabilityGenerally transferable from one owner to anotherNot transferable to another person
ScopeGenerally broader in scopeLimited to specific person
Corresponding DutyImposed upon persons in generalImposed upon a definite individual
EnforcementEnforced against anyone who interferes with the propertyEnforced only against specific person
ExampleOwnership of a house is a right in rem because it pertains to the property itself and is enforceable against anyone who might interfere with your ownership rights.
The right to receive rent from a tenant is a right in personam because it arises from a contractual relationship between the landlord and the tenant, and it’s enforceable against the tenant specifically.
Nature of rightsNegative rightsPositive rights

Case Law related to Right in Rem and Right in Personam

R Viswanathan vs Syed Abdul Wajid

Recognition of Rights by Roman Lawyers

Roman legal scholars distinguished between Jus in Rem and Jus in Personam. Jus in Rem denotes a right pertaining to a thing, while Jus in Personam signifies a right against or concerning a person, as per its literal interpretation. A Right in Rem implies a duty to acknowledge the right, applicable to all individuals generally. Conversely, a Right in Personam implies a duty imposed on a specific individual or group of individuals.

Case Law: MV Elisabeth vs Harwan Investment

Establishment of Liability in Personam

Plaintiffs establish their claim against defendants’ full liability in a personam action. Even an acknowledgment of service in a real estate auction can result in complete liability, regardless of whether the judgment exceeds the property value or the bail provided.

In Admiralty Suits and Actions in Rem

In admiralty suits in personam, defendants are held accountable for the entire substantiated claim of the plaintiffs. Similarly, if a judgment exceeds the value of the res (the property), a defendant acknowledging service in an action in rem risks being held fully liable.


In summary, while rights in rem pertain to absolute privileges over property, rights in personam are contingent upon specific relationships or agreements. Both are fundamental pillars of legal frameworks, shaping how individuals assert their entitlements and fulfill their obligations within society. Through examination of legal principles and case law, we gain insight into the intricacies of these rights, guiding our actions and responsibilities in the realm of law.

Frequently asked questions

How do rights in rem differ from rights in personam?

A right in rem is a right over a specific piece of property, enforceable against the world at large, while a right in personam is a right against or in respect of a specific person or entity, typically arising from a contractual relationship.

 How are rights in rem and rights in personam enforced?

Rights in rem are enforced against anyone who might interfere with the property, while rights in personam are enforced against specific individuals or entities with whom a contractual relationship exists.

Are rights in rem transferable?

Yes, rights in rem, such as property ownership, are generally transferable from one owner to another. However, rights in personam, such as contractual obligations, are not transferable to another person without proper legal procedures.

Read more

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Legislation As A Source Of Law In Jurisprudence

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