The recent case of Henderson v Wilcox (2015) has raised the issue of whether there are some circumstances in which relief from the rules of forfeiture can be given by the Court.

The rules of forfeiture are that it is against public policy for a criminal to benefit (by way of inheritance) as a result of their crime, specifically where there is a conviction of murder or manslaughter. However, the Forfeiture Act 1982 does allow for some discretion in manslaughter cases.

In Henderson v Wilcox [2015], Ian Henderson suffered from lifelong mental illnesses. Ultimately, these led to him attacking his elderly Mother (“the Deceased”) and ultimately causing her death.

Mr Henderson pleaded guilty to manslaughter and not guilty to murder, on the basis that his mental health issues meant that he did not mean to cause his Mother’s death or seriously injure her. This plea was accepted.

As a result of the same, whilst he would never be able to live unsupported, there was a strong possibility that he could live in the community with assistance. Mr Henderson therefore applied for relief from forfeiture to allow him to inherit the Deceased’s Estate, worth in the region of £150,000 (excluding the main property Mr Henderson and the Deceased lived in) in line with the terms of a Will. The property had been transferred into two “family protection trusts” in 2011, where the Deceased, Mr Henderson and some nephews were named as beneficiaries.

First, the Court had to consider whether the trusts were subject to the rules of forfeiture. Justice Cooke held they were not as the forfeiture rules only apply where the benefit in question comes into existence as a result of the criminal activity. This was not the case here as the trustees had powers to apply funds to the beneficiaries at any time from 2011; it was not conditional on the Deceased’s death.

Second, the Court had to consider whether the remainder of the Estate was subject to the rules of forfeiture. Section 2(2) of the Forfeiture Act 1982 indicates that the Court must be satisfied, after considering (i) the conduct of Mr Henderson, (ii) the conduct of the Deceased, and (iii) any other circumstances that are relevant to the matter, that the Forfeiture Rules should be modified if they are not to apply.

Justice Cooke considered the brutality of the incident and Mr Henderson’s mental health problems, before finding that Mr Henderson knew the difference between right and wrong. There was no medical evidence to suggest that he was unfit to make a plea in the criminal proceedings. Accordingly, it was held that no modification to the forfeiture Rule was required in this case and Mr Henderson was not entitled to benefit from the Deceased’s Estate.