HC Deb 09 July 1982 vol 27 cc582-3

Lords amendment: No. 1, to leave out clause 1.

11.30 am
Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker Mr. Paul Dean)

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 4, 7 to 9, 14 and 15.

Mr. Abse

The fact that the amendments are so elegantly drawn and enable the intentions of the sponsors to be clearly carried out is largely due to the considerable help that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Homewood) and I received from the Solicitor-General, who, while maintaining Government neutrality, implemented all the undertakings that we gave earlier. I am sure that my hon. Friend would wish to acknowledge the considerable assistance that we received in the other place from the Lord Chancellor's Department, and in drafting the amendments from the Department of Health and Social Security.

The matter raised in amendment No. 8 properly dominated our debate on Report. Understandably, the House expressed abhorrence at any suggestion that the long-established forfeiture rule—the rule of public policy that precludes a person who unlawfully kills another from acquiring financial benefit in consequence of the slaying—should be modified in the case of murder. The amendment makes it clear that in no circumstances would there be any denting of the principle that no man or woman can benefit from his or her wrong if the wrong is murder. No poisoner eager for an estate will ever gain from this legislation. Amendment No. 8 draws a needed sharp distinction between murder and other acts that may amount to unlawful killing but that may, in the view of judges and juries, fall far short of the deliberate act of murder.

Equally, amendment No. 2 makes it clear that a court will now have the power to take a different view of forfeiture if the circumstances merit it. One example is the aged wife who has survived a suicide pact with her husband and who may be totally deprived of benefit for the rest of her short life from the husband's estate. The amendment covers cases of aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the suicide of a person, contrary to the Suicide Act 1961.

Amendment No. 2 also clearly defines the forfeiture rule and thus paves the way for amendment No. 3 which, amendment No. 1 having removed clause 1, sets out the main purpose of the sponsors in framing the Bill and expresses the views of the House when it approved the principle of the Bill.

Amendment No. 3 lays down the parameters within which the court may exercise its new discretion to modify the forfeiture rule. The new clause states: In any case where a person stands convicted of an offence of which unlawful killing is an element, the court shall not make an order under this section modifying the effect of the forfeiture rule in that case unless proceedings for the purpose are brought before the expiry of the period of three months beginning with his conviction. The battered wife who, after years of enduring her husband's sadistic behaviour, yields in a mad moment to a retaliatory act that causes her brutal husband's death, may be found guilty not of murder but of manslaughter. In such a case the court may believe that justice does not require that she should be driven out of the matrimonial home owned by the husband or wholly deprived of income from the husband's estate.

Amendment No. 2 will give the court elbow room to exercise its discretion and enable it to take into account the financial position of a supplicant praying for the court's discretion. Moreover, the amendment protects those who administer an estate by placing a time limit on an application praying for the court's discretion. Application must be made within three months after a conviction. Although that period may be short, given the possible condition of someone who has experienced the trauma of a gruelling trial, it would impose too heavy a burden on administrators and be unfair to other beneficiaries to allow the distribution of an estate to be delayed for too long. The sponsors concur with the view that three months is about right and I hope that the House agrees.

This group of amendments was discussed fully in another place. The sponsors are grateful to the noble Lord Mischon for the sophisticated way in which he steered the Bill through the House of Lords.

The other amendments are technical and consequential. If the House needs further expansion of my rather synoptic summary of the intentions of the amendments, I am sure that the Solicitor-General, who has been exceedingly generous during the progress of the Bill, will amplify and clarify the effects of those amendments as he did at every other stage.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 4 agreed to.

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