Cleaver v Mutual Reserve Fund Life Association: CA 1892

The deceased’s executors objected to his widow maintaining action on a trust created by an insurance policy in her favour under the Act. She had been convicted of his murder. The executors’ case was that ‘it is against public policy to allow a criminal to claim any benefit by virtue of his crime.’
Held: The trust for the wife failed, because she had murdered her husband, but that the policy still was an asset of his estate, and the company had to pay the executors.
Fry LJ said: ‘The principle of public policy invoked is in my opinion rightly asserted. It appears to me that no system of jurisprudence can with reason include amongst the rights which it enforces rights directly resulting to the person asserting them from the crime of that person. If no action can arise from fraud it seems impossible to suppose that it can arise from felony or misdemeanour . . This principle of public policy, like all such principles, must be applied to all cases to which it can be applied without reference to the particular character of the right asserted or the form of its assertion.’ and ‘In the construction of Acts of Parliament . . general words which might include cases obnoxious to this principle (of public policy) must be read and construed subject to it.’


Fry LJ


[1892] 1 QB 147, 1891 4 All ER 335, 61 LJQB 128, 65 LT 220


Married Women’s Property Act 1882 11


England and Wales

Cited by:

AppliedDavitt v Titcumb ChD 1989
The defendant bought a house in joint names with the deceased, but was subsequently convicted of her murder. The house was purchased with the assistance of an endowment life policy in their joint names. Whilst he was imprisoned, the policy was used . .
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 . .
CitedTroja v Troja 1994
(New South Wales) The court explained the application of the forfeiture rules in cases involving murder. Historically: ‘In a time of attainder, forfeiture, and common exaction of the death penalty following conviction for murder, the niceties of the . .
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 . .
CitedBeresford 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 . .
CitedCommissioner of Police for the Metropolis v Reeves (Joint Administratix of The Estate of Martin Lynch, Deceased) HL 15-Jul-1999
The deceased was a prisoner known to be at risk of committing suicide. Whilst in police custody he hanged himself in his prison cell. The Commissioner accepted that he was in breach of his duty of care to the deceased, but not that that breach was . .
CitedSecretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Another v Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council SC 6-Apr-2011
The land-owner had planning permission to erect a barn, conditional on its use for agricultural purposes. He built inside it a house and lived there from 2002. In 2006. He then applied for a certificate of lawful use. The inspector allowed it, and . .
CitedChallen v Challen and Another ChD 27-May-2020
Forfeiture rule disapplied after spousal abuse
The claimant sought the disapplication of the forfeiture rule. She had been convicted of the manslaughter of her seriously abusive husband. The court considered whether a conviction for murder set aside and replaced with one of manslaughter was a . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Insurance, Wills and Probate

Leading Case

Updated: 24 April 2022; Ref: scu.185187