Banks v Goodfellow (1870)

English Succession Law

Banks v Goodfellow
‘Face-Madness’ by Kim Byungkwan

Intermittent delusions and moments of panic are obvious symptoms of repressed trauma, but in 1870 the diagnosis was quite different. When a testator suffering those very disturbances drafted his final will, the beneficiary passed soon afterwards, leaving their next-of-kin defending the right to inherit through intestacy when a claim of lunacy was used to challenge the validity of the will.

Known by many as a man of means, the deceased was prone to suffering immeasurable anxiety around a named individual, who even after his demise, was still considered by the testator to be haunting and molesting him in spirit as he had in life. This outlandish claim resulted in his being committed to the local lunatic asylum, before his eventual release and reintegration into the local community.

While his symptoms continued to a lesser degree, the testator was still regarded as somewhat insane by both the local doctor and parish clergyman, yet towards the end of his life he had made clear and concise arrangements with regard to the exactness of his will, the continued lease of owned property, and those he wished to attest to and benefit from, his legacy.

Upon his death in 1865 the will was executed as per prior instructions, whereupon his niece and sole beneficiary passed two years later, with no prepared will and absent of children, and so at the point of litigation the claimant argued that due to the testator’s susceptibility to psychological imbalances, the will was now invalid, and thus under the rules of intestacy the estate was due to the testator’s heir, and not the beneficiary’s half-brother.

When first heard, the court offered the opinion of a jury, who having heard the facts, agreed that the will was, despite any inconsistencies in the testator’s mental health, valid and duly executable. With the court awarding so, the case was put before the Queen’s Bench, whereupon recent precedent was used to evaluate the contention raised.

As laid down in Smith v Tebbitt the Court of Probate had previously ruled that:

“[A]ny degree of mental unsoundness, however slight, and however unconnected with the testamentary disposition in question, must be held fatal to the capacity of a testator.”

However in Greenwood v Greenwood Lord Kenyon had argued that:

“If he had a power of summoning up his mind, so as to know what his property was, and who those persons were that then were the objects of his bounty, then he was competent to make his will.”

While in Cartwright v Cartwright Sir William Wynne had stipulated that:

“If a lunatic person, or one that is beside himself at some times, but not continually, makes his testament, and it is not known whether the same were made while he was of sound mind and memory or no, then, in case the testament be so conceived as thereby no argument of phrensy or folly can be gathered, it is to be presumed that the same was made during the time of his calm and clear intermissions…”

While adopting a supportive stance to those viewed above, Legrand du Saulle likewise wrote in ‘La Folie deviant les tribunaux’ that:

“[H]allucinations are not a sufficient obstacle to the power of making a will, if they have exercised no influence on the conduct of the testator, have not altered his natural affections, or prevented the fulfilment of his social and domestic duties…”

All of which left the Court under no illusions as to how succinctly the testator had both discussed and prepared his will in line with his financial circumstances and clarity of mind, and so despite the urgency of the appellant where imperfection of the mind would result in nullity, there was simply not enough evidence to undermine the logic of the deceased, and so with notions of jury misdirection quickly dismissed, the court validated the will while holding that:

“The English law leaves everything to the unfettered discretion of the testator, on the assumption that, though in some instances, caprice, or passion, or the power of new ties, or artful contrivance,, or sinister influence, may lead to the neglect of claims that ought to be attended to, yet, the instincts, affections, and common sentiments of mankind may be safely trusted to secure, on the whole, a better disposition of the property of the dead, and one more accurately adjusted to the requirements of each particular case,, than could be obtained through a distribution prescribed by the stereotyped and inflexible rules of a general law.”

 

R v Kennedy (2007)

English Criminal Law

R v Kennedy
‘California Poppies’ by Lynda Reyes

The domestic criminal law principle of ‘free will’ within the confines of substance abuse, is a question that by extension, remains fraught with uncertainty (with particular regard to Class A substances). In this drug related death case, the issue before the court was fundamentally one of autonomy versus conjoined culpability.

When two drug users were engaging in social discourse, the now deceased party asked the appellant to prepare a syringe of heroin, so that he might be able to sleep that evening. After preparing the drug in the manner requested, the appellant left the room, before the deceased self-injected the measured dose. Minutes afterwards, the user was found breathless, and pronounced dead upon arrival at the nearest hospital.

When heard during the original trial, the appellant was convicted of supplying a class A drug under s.4(1) of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and administering the drug under s.23 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. These two offences were then tantamount to a charge of manslaughter, and sentence was set at eight years, with five of those under imprisonment. When the defendant appealed, the judges unflinchingly upheld the conviction, and it so was that when the Criminal Cases Review Commission studied the finer details of the case, that it was bought again before the Court of Appeal, where despite strongly presented contentions, it was summarily dismissed and left to the defendant to seek final appeal in the House of Lords. 

With a need for investigation surrounding the notion that administration implied contributory action on the part of the supplier, it was eventually made clear that the pervious judges had become victim to self-misdirection, despite distinguishing case citations presented throughout the appeals. Ultimately the doctrine of novus actus interveniens  was sufficiently present enough for the injecting party to have acted under free will, and an appreciation of the inherent risks associated with heroin abuse; and that while the first offence (which itself carried a prison sentence) remained intact, the charge of manslaughter could not stand, when held against the perhaps better appreciated evidence now on display.