The Upper Tribunal recently confirmed that the forfeiture rule can be modified in certain cases. The forfeiture rule is a law which states a person cannot benefit from their own wrongdoing, especially if that wrongdoing results in the death of another person.

Forfeiture Rule

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The facts of the case

Although this case only recently appeared in front of the Upper Tribunal, it is based on events that took place back in the 1980s.

A woman – known as simply as the claimant – was married to a farmer for 30 years. She discovered that he was having an affair, causing her to suffer severe depression. She later shot her husband in the side with a shotgun. He died of his injuries three weeks later. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the basis of diminished responsibility. The court sentenced her to three years’ imprisonment.

The claimant was released from prison in 1989. She was of retirement age, and she was paid her own reduced retirement pension by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). She would have been due a basic pension, plus an additional pension based on her late husband’s national insurance contributions. However, the DWP applied the forfeiture rule. As mentioned above, this is a rule that states you cannot benefit from your own wrongdoing. Had the forfeiture rule not been applied, the claimant would have been due an extra £78,433.84.

Can the forfeiture rule be modified?

The claimant is now deceased. However, the DWP should have referred her case to the Upper Tribunal (previously called the Commissioner) at the time of her release from prison. It is not known why this didn’t happen, but for whatever reason, the Upper Tribunal has only recently been asked to consider the case.

Two questions in particular required clarification:

  • Should the forfeiture rule have been applied in this case?
  • Should the forfeiture ruled have been modified in this case?

The answer to the first question was yes, as the claimant admitted to causing the death of her husband. The Upper Tribunal decided that the answer to the second question was also yes, on the basis that the claimant’s conviction was based on diminished responsibility. There were powerful mitigating circumstances surrounding the unlawful killing.

The Upper Tribunal ruled that only one-quarter of the sum in issue should be forfeited. The outstanding balance must be paid to the claimant’s estate.

Exceptions to the rule

This case just goes to show that there can be exceptions to the forfeiture rule. In this example, it was that the claimant had diminished responsibility. Given the circumstances, it was just to modify the forfeiture rule.


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