22 February 2019 by

The consequences of assisting a suicide – Bolt Burdon help clarify the law

Our contentious probate team have achieved success for one of our clients at the High Court and, in doing so, clarified the legal consequences that follow an assisted suicide.

The law currently provides that those guilty of the offence of assisting or encouraging a suicide, automatically give up or forfeit their interests in the deceased person’s estate. This is known as the ‘forfeiture rule’. The rule will apply irrespective of whether there is a criminal prosecution; however, the Court can modify the effect of the forfeiture rule where the justice of the case requires it.

Our client’s husband made the agonising decision to end his life following a diagnosis of Progressive Supra-nuclear Palsy (“PSP”) and, motivated only by love and because he asked her to, his wife (our client) assisted him with making arrangements for him to travel to the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland.

Our contentious probate team went to Court and were successful in persuading the High Court to exclude the effect of the forfeiture rule in relation to assets our client held jointly with her husband and her interest in his estate (of which she was the sole beneficiary).

If we had not been successful then the effect on our client would have been that no part of her husband’s estate, or his interest in their joint assets, would have passed to her. Instead, the assets would have passed to the substitute beneficiaries named in his Will.

The Court commended the “careful and methodical” way in which our team and counsel had prepared the case and provided some helpful guidance to be applied in future cases. In particular the Court stated that:

The exercise of the Court’s discretion under the Forfeiture Act is a sensitive one due to the interaction between different elements of the justice system. The Court will wish to be informed about the background to the claim with complete candour. A decision by the CPS not to prosecute, because it is considered not to be in the public interest to do so, is an important factor for the Court to take into account. It is, however, but one factor and it is necessary for the Court to be informed of the full background.

 In this case, due to the careful way in which the claim had been prepared, it was possible for the Court to deal with it at a short/disposal hearing lasting not much more than an hour. The Court indicated that whether it is possible to deal with similar cases at a short hearing will depend upon the view that the Court takes about the evidence. It emphasised that it is unlikely that the Court will ever feel able to deal with a claim of this type without a hearing due to the benefit that is obtained from oral submissions from counsel.

Whilst each case will be fact specific, the Court confirmed that the steps we took were entirely appropriate and they provide a good illustration of the steps which will be required to be taken in future cases, if relief from forfeiture is to be obtained.

You can also contact one of our solicitors in the Contentious Trusts and Probate team here.

Please click here for a link to the judgment.

 

15 February 2019 by

Court of Appeal decides internal documents discussing a commercial proposal for settlement of a dispute are not privileged.

If you are a party to a commercial dispute, a recent decision by the Court of Appeal could affect the […]

21 February 2019 by

The High Court has granted a widow relief from forfeiture after she assisted her husband with his suicide.   Ninian v Findlay & Others [2019] EWHC 297 (Ch)

Our contentious probate team achieved success for the Claimant by persuading the High Court to exclude the effect of the […]

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