I must consider whether the Court will let my client inherit his mother’s estate; even though he killed her.
It is a principle of public policy that a person who has unlawfully killed another should not inherit their estate. So says the Forfeiture Act 1982. The Courts have helpfully clarified that the rule applies to all cases of manslaughter (see Dunbar v Plant, Dalton v Latham, and more recently in Chadwick v Collinson).
The Court can dis-apply the forfeiture rule where it would be just in all the circumstances to do so. My topic in this blog is the modification of the forfeiture rule in cases of manslaughter due to diminished responsibility. I am assisted by the recent decision in Chadwick v Collinson, which posits factors that weigh in the balance of the Court’s decision. What is clear from Chadwick though, is that each case will turn on its own facts, and the civil Courts will be influenced by evidence on the Claimant’s culpability produced in the criminal proceedings.
The Court must first look at the level of culpability attending the beneficiary’s criminal conduct. In other words, whether the Claimant’s diminished responsibility caused, or significantly caused, the unlawful killing.
In Chadwick the Court found that Mr Chadwick’s mental disorder had substantially impaired his capacity to control his behaviour, but not totally. Thus Mr Chadwick had an awareness of his actions when he killed his girlfriend and son. The impact of his mental disorder was not enough to eliminate or reduce his culpability and so the forfeiture rule should apply.
The Court must then think about whether the justice of the case requires the effect of the rule to be modified. In Chadwick the Court identified possible mitigating factors such as: the financial position of the Claimant, the source of the deceased’s estate, the conduct of the deceased, and the default beneficiaries.
Mr Chadwick was unsuccessful in his claim for his inheritance. The Court held that Mr Chadwick’s poor financial circumstances did not weigh against his culpability, or the fact that the deceased’s conduct was not a factor in the killing, and that the estate was largely comprised of money received from her mother.
Chadwick is useful in sharpening our focus on the mitigating factors, less so in determining the level of culpability to eliminate the effect of the rule. Not least because the Court does not offer guidance on what the requisite level should be.