Dunbar (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 allowed, and relief against forfeiture was given.
Mummery LJ said: ‘the presence of acts or threats of violence is not necessary for the application of the forfeiture rule. It is sufficient that a serious crime has been committed deliberately and intentionally. The references to acts or threats of violence in the cases are explicable by the facts of those cases.’ and ‘The essence of the principle of public policy is that (a) no person shall take a benefit resulting from a crime committed by him or her resulting in the death of the victim and (b) the nature of the crime determines the application of the principle’ Assisting a suicide remains an offence under the 1961 Act, and therefore the Forfeiture Act applied. The survivor of a suicide pact could take an interest under a life policy of the deceased partner; Public policy was over-ruled and a discretion exercised. Doing ‘justice in the case’ under the section was not the same as doing justice as between the parties.
Phillips LJ said of the 1961 Act: ‘When the Act is considered . . it gives a clear indication that the circumstances in which the offence is committed may be such that the public interest does not require the imposition of any penal sanction. This, in my judgment, is the logical conclusion to be drawn from the ‘consent’ provision.’ and ‘So far as the [Forfeiture] rule is concerned, it is hard to see any logical basis for not applying it in all cases of manslaughter . . in the crime of manslaughter the actus reus is causing the death of another. That actus reus is rendered criminal if it occurs in one of the various circumstances that are prescribed by law. Anyone guilty of manslaughter has ex hypothesi, caused the death of another by criminal conduct. It is in such circumstances that the rule against forfeiture applies.
However, the harshness of applying the forfeiture rule inflexibly to all cases of manslaughter in all circumstances is such that I do not consider that, absent the statutory intervention which occurred, the rule could have survived unvaried to the present day. The obiter dicta of Salmon and Phillimore LJJ in Gray v. Barr [1971] 2 QB 55 and Lord Lane C.J. in Ex parte Connor [1981] QB 758 were straws in the wind. The rule is a judge-made rule to give effect to what was perceived as public policy at the time of its formulation. I believe that, but for the intervention of the legislature, the judges would themselves have modified the rule. Furthermore, it seems to me that the only logical way of modifying the rule would have been to have declined to apply it where the facts of the crime involved such a low degree of culpability, or such a high degree of mitigation, that the sanction of forfeiture, far from giving effect to the public interest, would have been contrary to it. Alternative suggestions that the rule should be restricted to cases of deliberate killing, or deliberate violence leading to death, do not cater for cases of diminished responsibility or provocation, where the mitigating features may be such as to render it particularly harsh to apply the forfeiture rule.’

Lord Justice Hirst, Lord Justice Phillips Lord Justice Mummery
Gazette 24-Sep-1997, [1997] EWCA Civ 2167, [1997] 4 All ER 289, [1998] Ch 412, [1997] 3 WLR 1261, [1998] 1 FLR 157, [1998] Fam Law 139, [1997] 3 FCR 669
Forfeiture Act 1982 1 2, Suicide Act 1961 2(1)
England and Wales
CitedIn Re K, decd ChD 2-Jan-1985
A wife had pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of her husband, though she had been subject to long term abuse by him.
Held: Relief was granted to the wife under s.2(2) of the 1982 Act. The forfeiture rule for suicide operates to sever any joint . .
CitedCleaver 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 . .
CitedIn the Estate of Cunigunda Crippen deceased 1911
Dr Crippen notoriously survived his wife. Between the date of his conviction for her murder and the carrying out of the death sentence passed on him, Dr Crippen made a will naming Ethel Le Neve as the sole executrix and universal beneficiary. Ethel . .
CitedIn the Estate of Julian Bernard Hall deceased; In re RH CA 1914
The rule against an offender benefitting from his crime applies not just in cases involving a conviction for murder.
Held: The court rejected a suggestion that a distinction should be drawn between cases of murder and manslaughter. Lord . .
CitedRegina v Chief National Insurance Commissioner Ex Parte Connor QBD 1981
The court was asked whether the rule against forfeiture applied so as to disentitle an applicant from receiving a widow’s allowance when she had killed her husband with a knife. She had been held guilty of manslaughter but simply placed on . .
CitedGray v Barr ChD 1970
The defendant had used a shotgun to threaten a man and the gun had accidentally gone off and killed him. The issue was whether the defendant could recover in respect of his liability under a policy of insurance. .
Held: The rule of public . .
CitedGray v Barr CA 1971
A husband had accidentally shot and killed his wife’s lover after threatening him with a shotgun.
Held: The court confirmed the decision at first instance. He was not liable to be indemnified by his insurers for the losses claimed against him . .
CitedRe S deceased 1996
The court considred the application of the Act: ‘ such was the deliberate nature of his violent attack on his wife that the forfeiture rule of public policy applies so as to disentitle the plaintiff from any benefit he would otherwise take as a . .
CitedIn re Giles Deceased 1972
A woman had killed her husband, but been convicted of manslaughter rather than murder on grounds of diminished responsibility. A hospital order was made under the Mental Health Act 1959. It was argued that in these circumstances the forfeiture rule . .
CitedTinsley v Milligan HL 28-Jun-1993
Two women parties used funds generated by a joint business venture to buy a house in which they lived together. It was vested in the sole name of the plaintiff but on the understanding that they were joint beneficial owners. The purpose of the . .
CitedDavitt 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 . .
CitedRe H deceased CA 1991
The Plaintiff had stabbed his wife to death when under the illusion, induced by a reaction to an anti-depressant drug, that she had just committed an act of infidelity. At his trial, a plea to guilty of manslaughter by reason of diminished . .
CitedHall v Knight and Baxter CA 1914
A man named Julian Hall kept a woman named Jeannie Baxter and had made a will in her favour. They had had many quarrels. He had promised to marry her but had not done so. On April 13, 1913, she took his revolver and, whilst he was in bed, shot him . .
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 . .
CitedBeresford 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 . .
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 . .
CitedIn Re K CA 1986
The court dismissed the appeal against the exercise of discretion by Vinelott J at first instance. After hearing a detailed argument as to why the Judge had not properly exercised his discretion in making a modification order which applied to all . .
CitedTinline v White Cross Insurance 1921
the plaintiff had been convicted of manslaughter by reckless driving. The court was debarred by public policy from obtaining an indemnity under his insurance policy in respect of his civil liability.
Held: He was not: ‘If the law is not . .
CitedHardy v Motor Insurers’ Bureau CA 1964
The court was asked whether insurance pursuant to the Road Traffic Act 1960 would provide valid cover for the benefit of a third party injured by deliberately criminal conduct on the part of the driver.
Held: Diplock LJ said: ‘The rule of law . .
CitedHaseldine v Hosken 1933
The court asked whether an insurance taken for the benefit of third parties was invalidated by the criminal act of the insured. The upholding of the policy was justified in relation to unlawful killing by the manner of driving a motor vehicle on the . .
DisapprovedRe H (Deceased) 1990
The Plaintiff had stabbed his wife to death while acting under a delusion induced by a reaction to a drug that he had been prescribed.
Held: Public policy did not require in every case of the manslaughter of a spouse that the forfeiture rule . .

Cited by:
appliedCg/14509/96 SSC 17-Jun-1998
In certain cases, the normal rule, that benefits which might accrue on the death of another are lost if the claimant caused the death, can be set aside. Manslaughter of violent husband. . .
CitedPurdy, Regina (on the Application of) v Director of Public Prosecutions and Another QBD 29-Oct-2008
The applicant suffered mutiple sclerosis and considered that she might wish to go abroad to end her life. She asked the court to make more clear the guidance provided by the Director as to whether her partner might be prosecuted under section 2(1) . .
CitedPurdy, Regina (on the Application of) v Director of Public Prosecutions and others CA 19-Feb-2009
The claimant suffered a debilitating terminal disease. She anticipated going to commit suicide at a clinic in Switzerland, and wanted first a clear policy so that her husband who might accompany her would know whether he might be prosecuted under . .
CitedPurdy, Regina (on the Application of) v Director of Public Prosecutions HL 30-Jul-2009
Need for Certainty in Scope of Offence
The appellant suffered a severe chronic illness and anticipated that she might want to go to Switzerland to commit suicide. She would need her husband to accompany her, and sought an order requiring the respondent to provide clear guidelines on the . .
CitedLand v Land; In re Land, deceased ChD 13-Jul-2006
The claimant had cared for his elderly mother who ‘shunned any type of ‘officialdom’ including doctors and home helps.’ However, the claimant so neglected her that she suffered severe bed sores which had become infected in consequence of her lying . .
CitedMack v Lockwood and Others ChD 19-Jun-2009
The claimant had been convicted of the manslaughter of his wife. He now applied for relief agsinst forfeiture of his share of her estate. He was elderly and had suffered some mental impairment after a stroke, which might have led him to misjudge his . .
CitedD v L and Others ChD 16-Apr-2003
The claimant had been found guilty of the manslaughter by diminished responsibility of the deceased. He now sought disapplication of the 1982 Act.
Held: The application failed: ‘The reforms introduced by the Homicide Act 1957 were designed to . .
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 . .

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Wills and Probate, Crime

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Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.142564