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The law of agency is an area of commercial law dealing with a set of contractual, quasi-contractual and non-contractual fiduciary relationships that involve a person, called the agent, that is authorized to act on behalf of another (called the principal) to create legal relations with a third party.[1] Succinctly, it may be referred to as the equal relationship between a principal and an agent whereby the principal, expressly or implicitly, authorizes the agent to work under their control and on their behalf. The agent is, thus, required to negotiate on behalf of the principal or bring them and third parties into contractual relationship. This branch of law separates and regulates the relationships between:

  • agents and principals (internal relationship), known as the principal-agent relationship;
  • agents and the third parties with whom they deal on their principals' behalf (external relationship); and
  • principals and the third parties when the agents deal.

In India, section 182 of the Contract Act 1872 defines Agent as “a person employed to do any act for another or to represent another in dealings with third persons”.[2] However, this law only applies to contractual law in India.

Concepts

The reciprocal rights and liabilities between a principal and an agent reflect commercial and legal realities. A business owner often relies on an employee or another person to conduct a business. In the case of a corporation, since a corporation can only act through natural person agents, the principal is bound by the contract entered into by the agent, so long as the agent performs within the scope of the agency.

A third party may rely in good faith on the representation by a person who identifies himself as an agent for another. It is not always cost effective to check whether someone who is represented as having the authority to act for another actually has such authority. If it is subsequently found that the alleged agent was acting without necessary authority, the agent will generally be held liable.

Brief statement of legal principles

There are three broad classes of agent:[citation needed]

  1. Universal agents hold broad authority to act on behalf of the principal, e.g. they may hold a power of attorney (also known as a mandate in civil law jurisdictions) or have a professional relationship, say, as lawyer and client.
  2. General agents hold a more limited authority to conduct a series of transactions over a continuous period of time; and
  3. Special agents are authorized to conduct either only a single transaction or a specified series of transactions over a limited period of time.

Contract Act 1872 defines Agent as “a person employed to do any act for another or to represent another in dealings with third persons”.[2] However, this law only applies to contractual law in India.