Gray 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 by the deceased’s estate as a result of the shooting. It is not every type of crime which operates so as to cause public policy to make the courts reject a claim. The forfeiture rule only applies where the offender is ‘guilty of deliberate, intentional and unlawful violence, or threats of violence.’
Lord Denning MR said: ‘Manslaughter is a crime which varies infinitely in its seriousness. It may come very near to murder or amount to little more than inadvertence.’ and ‘In an action for assault, in awarding damages, the judge or jury can take into account, not only circumstances which go to aggravate damages, but also those which go to mitigate them’
Phillimore LJ confirmed that manslaughter varies from conduct which is almost murder to conduct which is only criminal in the technical sense: ‘It would be foolish to attempt to lay down any general rules. It is wiser I think to confine decision to the facts in this case.’
Salmon LJ said this: ‘Although public policy is rightly regarded as an unruly steed which should be cautiously ridden, I am confident that public policy undoubtedly requires that no one who threatens unlawful violence with a loaded gun should be allowed to enforce a claim for indemnity against any liability he may incur as a result of having so acted. I do not intend to lay down any wider proposition. In particular, I am not deciding that a man who has committed manslaughter would, in any circumstances, be prevented from enforcing a contract of indemnity in respect of any liability he may have incurred for causing death or from inheriting under a will or upon the intestacy of anyone whom he has killed. Manslaughter is a crime which varies infinitely in its seriousness. It may come very near to murder or amount to little more than inadvertence, although in the latter class of case the jury only rarely convicts. H.’s case [1914] P. 1 may seem to be an authority for the proposition that anyone who has committed manslaughter, in any circumstances, is necessarily under the same disability as if he had committed murder. The facts however are not stated in the report and they are of vital importance in order to understand the decision. They have now been ascertained from the record A man named J.H. kept a woman named J.B. 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 dead with four or five shots. She was acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter. It is small wonder that the court held that, on grounds of public policy, she could not take under H.’s will. The only surprising thing about the case is that she was acquitted of murder, apparently for no reason – except, perhaps, that she was defended by Mr Marshall Hall.’
Salmon LJ, Lord Denning MR, Phillimore LJ
[1971] 2 QB 554
England and Wales
Appeal fromGray 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 . .

Cited by:
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 . .
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 . .
AppliedRe 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 . .
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 . .
CitedHawley v Luminar Leisure Ltd and others CA 24-Jan-2006
The claimant was assaulted and severely injured at a night club by a doorman supplied to the club by a third party company now in liquidation. He claimed the club was the ‘temporary deemed employer’ of the doorman. He also sought to claim under the . .
CitedPorter v Zurich Insurance Company QBD 5-Mar-2009
The claimant insured his house with the defendants. Severely depressed, drunk and delusional, he set fire to it and now claimed after refusal to pay out. He said that he was not acting as a free agent.
Held: A claimant who seeks to recover . .
CitedMoore Stephens (A Firm) v Stone Rolls Ltd (in liquidation) HL 30-Jul-2009
The appellants had audited the books of the respondent company, but had failed to identify substantial frauds by an employee of the respondent. The auditors appealed a finding of professional negligence, relying on the maxim ex turpi causa non . .
CitedChadwick v Collinson and Others ChD 24-Sep-2014
The deceased and the claimant lived together for about 10 years in an apparently stable and loving relationship. They had a son together. They also co-owned a house (by way of joint tenancy) in which they lived. In April 2013 the claimant was . .
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 . .
CitedMurphy v Culhane CA 10-Jun-1976
The widow of the deceased claimed damages from one of the attackers who had been convicted of her husband’s manslaughter. The question was whether, given the conviction, she was entitled to entry of judgment as to liability without trial. The . .
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 . .

These lists may be incomplete.
Updated: 11 May 2021; Ref: scu.185188