Boy loses £500,000 over killing by father

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A boy of nine should be disinherited from a £500,000 estate because his father murdered his grandparents, three Court of Appeal judges said yesterday.

A boy of nine should be disinherited from a £500,000 estate because his father murdered his grandparents, three Court of Appeal judges said yesterday.

The father could not benefit from his crime so the estate could not be passed through him to his son, the judges said. But after the ruling, lawyers said the 1925 law, used by the court to block the inheritance, should be declared incompatible with the Human Rights Act.

Under the "rule of forfeiture", murderers cannot benefit from their victims' deaths. So the grandfather's estate must go to the offspring of his dead sister, leaving the boy without a penny, said Lord Justice Aldous, sitting with Lord Justice Simon Brown and Mr Justice Sedley.

The court was bound by the Administration of Estates Act, which meant the boy, identified as T, could have inherited only if his father died before his grandfather. The killer, in his forties, is serving life for the 1993 murder.

The child, who brought the case with his mother acting as his "litigation friend", had earlier refused an offer to settle for half of his grandfather's fortune.

Lord Justice Sedley said the grandparents could not have anticipated their death would be caused by their son, who would normally have inherited their estate.

In the case of such "an unimaginable event", most grandparents, if alive to be asked, would opt for their estates being given to their grandchild. But the judge said Section 47 of the 1925 Act was clear in saying T could inherit only if his father predeceased his grandfather. The judge said they reached the decision "with some reluctance", but the courts had no power to "simply write in what they surmise Parliament has left out".

Malcolm Fowler, chairman of the Law Society's criminal law committee, said if that was the case the law needed further consideration by Parliament. A law that allowed the sins of the father to be visited upon the son was unjust, he said, and could not have been the original intention of Parliament. "This Act could be the first to be declared incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights, so Parliament would have to enact primary legislation to change it."

T had challenged a High Court ruling last year that the grandfather's money should go to more distant relatives. Richard Barlow, representing T, said as the "issue" of his grandfather, the boy stood second in line for the inheritance after his father, an only child, who had forfeited his rights by murdering his parents.

Ed Nally, an expert on inheritance law, said although the decision appeared "harsh" it was analogous with the law that prevents legal ownership being passed on to the innocent buyer of a stolen car. "This is a ground-breaking decision but it does not seem unreasonable that the boy should not benefit from a windfall from a tainted source," he added.

T was ordered to pay £20,000 legal costs, but he was legally aided so the order is unlikely to be enforced. He was refused permission to appeal to the House of Lords.