The Forfeiture Rule And accompanied suicide in Switzerland

A couple of years ago I wrote an article about the legal complexities surrounding accompanied suicides and the consequences of bringing about the death of another person, in, for example a road accident.

A recent case has highlighted these complexities: Alex Ninian was diagnosed with supranuclear palsy, an incurable fatal disease, in 2013, when he was aged 80. In November 2017 the disease had reached an acute phase and he sought the assistance of the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland to end his life which duly happened. Unfortunately, he was too disabled to travel alone to the clinic there and so he was accompanied by his wife Sarah. Sarah remained with him throughout the final procedures leading to and at his death.

On her return to UK she was clearly at risk of prosecution for assisting a suicide, and the CPS believed they had sufficient evidence to secure a conviction.

Fortunately the outcome was more enlightened. The CPS decided it was not in the public interests to seek a conviction and were encouraged in this view by a written statement from the deceased’s lawyers that Sarah had been vocally opposed to the decision to go to Switzerland, and had only accompanied him because he could not get there by himself. She did not have to endure a prosecution.

But a second, civil, legal issue still had to be considered. The Forfeiture Act 1982 prevents a person from benefiting if that person has aided, abetted, counselled or procured the death of another – subject to the court’s discretion to waive this provision in a suitable case. Sarah duly sought the discretion of the court which was exercised in her favour. Accordingly, and very thankfully, she was not denied the entitlement to inherit his £1.8M estate.

For more advice about inheritance and forfeiture contact John Pulham at:-

Messrs Pulham & Co
Egmere House,
Market Place,
Saxmundham,
IP17 1AG

Telephone (01728) 602084 or e-mail jsp@pulham.co.uk