Beresford v Royal Insurance Co Ltd: CA 1937

Major Beresford had shot himself. The court considered the applicability of the forfeiture rule in a case involving a suicide: ‘suicide when sane is by English law a felony. This has been so from very early times. The law is thus succinctly stated by Stephen in his Digest of the Criminal Law (art. 319): ‘A person who kills himself in a manner which in the case of another person would amount to murder is guilty of murder, and every person who aids and abets any person in so killing himself is an accessory before the fact, or a principal in the second degree in such murder.’ Hence, where there has been what is called a suicide pact between two persons and one survives the survivor is guilty of murder . . This being the nature of felo de se by English law, and as the plaintiff, as personal representative, stands in the shoes of the assured who has committed, as it were, murder on himself, the present claim is equivalent technically to a claim brought by a murderer or his representative or assigns on a policy effected by the murderer on the life of the murdered man. In the latter case it is, we think clear that neither the murderer nor his estate nor his assigns could take a benefit under the policy. ‘ Lord Wright discussed the ex turpi principle: ‘The principle (that the court will not allow a criminal or his representative to reap by the judgment of the court the fruits of his crime) has been applied….in many decisions dealing with varied states of fact and applications of the same or similar principle. These are all illustrations of the maxim ex turpi causa non oritur actio . The maxim itself, notwithstanding the dignity of a learned language, is, like most maxims, lacking in precise definition.’


Lord Wright MR, Romer and Scott LJJ


[1937] 2 KB 197


England and Wales

Cited by:

Appeal fromBeresford v Royal Insurance Co Ltd HL 1938
The forfeiture rule was to be applied in a case involving suicide. An insured may not recover under a policy of insurance in respect of loss intentionally caused by his own criminal or tortious act, however clearly the wording of the policy may . .
CitedDunbar (As Administrator of Tony Dunbar Deceased) v Plant CA 23-Jul-1997
The couple had decided on a suicide pact. They made repeated attempts, resulting in his death. Property had been held in joint names. The deceased’s father asked the court to apply the 1982 Act to disentitle Miss Plant.
Held: The appeal was . .
CitedAXA General Insurance Limited v Gottlieb CA 11-Feb-2005
The defendant made a claim under an insurance policy. The insurer made an interim payment, but then asserted that the claim was fraudulent, and sought recovery of the interim payment.
Held: At common law, fraud in an insurance claim, once . .
CitedJ v S T (Formerly J) CA 21-Nov-1996
The parties had married, but the male partner was a transsexual, having been born female and having undergone treatment for Gender Identity Dysphoria. After IVF treatment, the couple had a child. As the marriage broke down the truth was revealed in . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Wills and Probate, Insurance

Updated: 06 May 2022; Ref: scu.199534