UK Accounting Glossary
As with the most concepts used by the layman and also by a lawyer, the concept of possession has both an ordinary and a legal meaning. And the two may differ considerably. Law often picks up a word from the law dictionary, but uses it in an extended – or restricted sense, for legal purposes. Thus there may be some cases of actual possession, which the law prefers not to recognize, and therefore, not to protect. Thus borrower or bailee of goods would have actual possession, but Roman Law refused to recognize such possession, saying that he had mere custody. He had possession in fact, but not possession in law.
Again, if a person is in possession of an envelope, a layman would say that he is also in possession of its contents. However, several English cases have held to the contrary in the case of larceny or theft. It is held that such a person would not be said to be in possession of its contents until he discovers the contents and realizes what it is.
Or again, if a person has car-keys in his hands, and a layman would say that he has possession of the keys. However, a lawyer would say that he has constructive possession of the car. Or take a situation like this: If A leaves behind his wallet on the floor of Bs shop and B has no knowledge thereof, who has its possession, A or B. The layman may have no answer, as the point would have to be decided in a suit between A and B.
Few relationships are as vital to man as that of possession, and we may expect any system of law, however primitive, to provide rules for its protection. Human life and human society, as we know it, would be impossible without the use and consumption of material things. We need food to eat, clothes to wear and tools to use, in order to win a living from our environment. But to eat food, we must first get hold of it, to wear clothes, we must have them, and to use tools, we must possess them. Possession of material things then is essential to life; it is the most basic relationship of material things then is essential to life; it is the most basic relationship between men and things.
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This glossary post was last updated: 18th March 2020.