Report No. 110
Succession by Homicide (Section 390A)
49.1. Scope of the Chapter.-
We are concerned in this Chapter with a fundamental principle of public policy, namely, that a man should not be allowed to derive a benefit resulting from his own crime.1 This principle, well-recognised in the legal systems of many countries,2 including India,3 has not yet been expressly enacted in the Indian Succession Act. The object of this Chapter is to consider the need for codification of the above principle in a suitable form in the Act, after a brief examination of the present position in this regard.
1. Cleaver v. Mutual Reserve Fund Association, (1982) 1 QB 147 (156).
2. Para. 49.8, infra.
3. Section 25, Hindu Succession Act, 1956.
49.2. The higher law.-
All laws must conform to a higher law. An American case which is a good example of this approach is Riggs v. Palmer, (1889) 115 NY 506: 22 NF 188 (191) cited by Youdan in (1973) 89 LQR 235 (251), where the New York Court of Appeals held that; legatee did not gain title to property which he would have received as the result of murdering his testator, Earl, J. said that there are certain principles that "have their foundation in universal law administered in all civilised countries" and that "all laws, as well as all contracts, may be controlled in their operation and effect by general, fundamental maxims of the common law".
49.3. Motive immaterial.-
Accordingly, where a person murders another he generally should not be allowed to enjoy the property he acquires as the result of that death. "A man shall not slay his benefactor and thereby take his bounty.1 It is not considered relevant what the murderers' motive for the murder was.2
1. Youdan Acquisition of Property by Killing, (1973) 89 LQR 235 (237).
2. Hall (in re:), 1914 Probate 1 (7) (Hamilton, L.J.)
49.4. Position under the Act.-
At present, however, there is no express provision in the Indian Succession Act debarring a person who has committed homicide for his right to succeed to the estate of the person whose death he has caused. No doubt, this would be the position under the rules of the common law (to be dealt with later).1 But it is appropriate that this important topic should be dealt with by a specific statutory provision in an Act which is a consolidating enactment.
In order to obtain a proper perspective of the matter, it would be useful first to deal briefly with the position in cases not governed by the Act, and then to recommend the amendment that could be appropriately made in the Act.
1. See para. 49.8, infra.