The Supreme Court (Known as ‘The SC’) was asked to give the ruling on the scope and extent of the applicability of the ‘Disqualification Rule’ (known as ‘The Rule’) to a ‘Murderer (and even to the kith and kin of the murderer) in matters of inheritance to the joint family properties under Section 25 of The Hindu Succession Act, 1956 (known as ‘The Act’)
The facts that were responsible for bringing the main issue before the SC were that Appellant-Plaintiff, Mrs. Vallikannuwas the wife of Sri Singaperumal, Respondent-Defendant 1. Mr.Singaperumal was convicted for the murder of his father.
Appellant claimed the entire property on the strength of the fact that ‘she was the only member left in the family’ as her husband was disqualified under the Act for killing his father.
The respondent also claimed the entire property of the father on the ‘doctrine of survivorship’ as per the opening paragraph of Sec. 6 of The Act.
Both the lower courts held that ‘appellant is entitled to half share in the property left by her father-in-law’.
The full text of Sec.25 with brief explanation is most appropriate before discussing the facts and the decision in Mrs. Vallikannu.
“A person who commits or abetsthe commission of the murdershall be disqualified from inheriting the property of the person murdered or other property in furtherance of the succession to which he or she committed or abetted the commission of the murder”
Sec. 25 can be split in two parts.
The first part of the section informs us that a person is disqualified from taking the property left behind by the deceased if such person commits or abets the commission of murder of the deceased from whom he or she would have naturally taken the property if such killing has not taken place.
In other words, a murderer or an abettor of murder is disqualified from taking any property left by his or her victim. Here under the first part, the Disqualification Rule (hereinafter referred to as ‘The Rule’in this article) is straight and direct.
For example, Mr.X is having an adopted son ‘S’ and naturally born daughter ‘D’. S kills his father. S is disqualified.
Again, ‘S’ is a son of ‘X’ born to his first wife. After the death of the first wife, ‘X’ married ‘W’ and had a daughter ‘D’ born to his second wife. ‘W’ instigates ‘S’ to kill his father. ‘S’ kills him. ‘S’ is disqualified. ‘W’ is also disqualified as an abettor.
Coming to the second part, a murderer or an abettor of murder is disqualified from taking any other property when the killing has been carried out in furtherance of succession to the property. Here the disqualification is not direct and the emphasis is laid on the words “or other property in furtherance of the successionto which he or she committed or abetted the commission of murder”
For example, ‘X’ is expected to die within a year as he was suffering with serious illness. He has a minor daughter ‘D’ and a brother ‘B’. ‘B’ kills the girl. Since this killing was carried out to accelerate the process of succession to take the property of ‘X’, ‘B’ may be disqualified though he has not killed his brother.
In yet another example, Mr. X is having an adopted son ‘S’, a naturally born daughter ‘D’ and his brother B. B instigates S to kill his father. S kills his father and is disqualified. Unfortunately D also died in accident after one year. As against B, the rule of disqualification may become problematic if B has no intention to accelerate the process of succession but had great animosity towards his brother X for not adopting his son P in preference to S and so he has encouraged S to kill his father. There is reliable evidence that before, during and after adoption there was confrontation between X and B and the relatives and friends have pacified them.
Will this evidence make any difference to the rule of disqualification? No doubt B is responsible for the death of X at the hands of his son. No doubt the son is disqualified under first part. The disqualification of B is highly debatable as the most important requirement that the abetment to murder was carried out by B in furtherance of succession is totally missing.
Therefore, the crux of the problem revolves round the words “commits or abets the commission of murder” found in the section. When can a person be declared to have committed the murder? is the most important point. It can surely be said that on conviction for murder, he or she can be declared to come within the Disqualification Rule, provided, as declared in the Section, the killing is carried out in furtherance of succession.
When the criminal act of the heir happens, not to be murder or at least, the abetment to murder, an inquiry to find out whether such act was carried out to accelerate the process of succession is a futile exercise.
This is a brief analysis of the section.
In view of the above explanation, The High Court of Madras and later The SC had to grapple with the most important point of law of applicability of the Disqualification Rule to Respondent.
First, the High Court heldthat the decision of Criminal Court in the murder case can be ‘conclusive about the complicity of the killer in the murder’ and was perfectly right in applying the higher doctrine of ‘Public Policy Considerations’, in disqualifying the appellant for the murder.
The SC also accepted this part of the decision.
Thus far, it can be accepted. But the High Court did not stop here.
Extending the disqualification rule even against the innocent wife of the murderer, Ms. Vallikannu was not allowed to claim even the half share, already given to her by both Lower Courts, in the property of the deceased as ‘she does not form fresh stock of descent to claim the rights to inheritance’.
Finally,The Cross Appeals of both the wife and husband, for disqualifying him for the murder were placed before Lords Askhok Bhan and G.C Mathur of the SC.
The SC referred to the following half dozen decisions, all given by High Courts prior to the Act, except one ruling given subsequent to the Act in 1982, including the very oldest decision of The Privy Council (known ‘The PC’) in KenchavaSanyallappa V. Girimallappa Somasagar,of more than hundred years, which was considered to be ‘the authority for applying the Rule to a murderer and also to his kith and kin’ in Indian Law in regard to succession to the property of the diseased.
In the case before The Privy Council, the facts were that Ms.Chanabasava, already a widow, was in possession of property of her deceased son. Her nephew, Sri Henmappa, killed her. He would have secured the property, as the heir of the last male owner, i.e., Sri Parappa, had he not killed the widow.
Subsequently, Kenchava, the Appellant and Ms.Gangava, both sisters of the murderer obtained the property. The Respondent, Girimallappa, as the son of the Parappa’s aunt, claimed that he had a better title than the two sisters of Henmappa.
The PC consisting of Lords Dunedin, Phillimore, Carson and John Edge held that “a murderer must be for the purpose of the inheritance be treated as if he were dead when the inheritance opened and not as be a fresh stock of descent; the exclusion extends to the legal as well as beneficial estate, so that neither he can himself succeed nor can be succession be claimed through him.” It was also held that “even if Hindu Law did not disqualify the murderer from succeeding to the estate, he was so disqualified upon the principles of Justice, Equity and Good Conscience.”
Finally, the Privy Council dismissed the sisters’s claim to the property though they were not involved in the crime but were also the nearest but not remotest heirs than Respondent.
Next in Vedanayaga Mudaliar,being the first appeal decided by Madras High Court,it was held that although there is nothing in any express text of Hindu Law disqualifying a murderer or other person privy to the murder from succeeding to the person who was the victim of the murder, the Latin Maxim ‘NEMO EX SUO DELICTO MELIOREM SUAM CONDITIONEM FACERE POTEST’according to which ‘wrongful act committed by the person standing in the position of heir disentitled him to any beneficial interest in inheritance’ is one of universal application and ought to be followed in British India.
In Ramappa, the Madras high Court held that “the test of disqualification is not relationship but whether the title is traced through the murderer.” It was held that “the Respondents are related to the last male owner through common ancestor and it is not disputed that they stand higher than the plaintiffs in the Pedigree of the family and so entitled in their own right in preference to the plaintiffs”.
In Nakchandcase, the claim by Respondent-sons was upheld by the Hon’ble Justice Bhargava when it was held that “the mere act of their father Anand Singh having committed murder of Ram Harak Singh and thus having being disentitled to succeed to the property of the victim would not take away their right which they had acquired by birth and which did not depend upon the right which Anand lost by committing the murder”.
This decision is a clear departure from the decision of the Privy Council when the murderer’s son was not disqualified for his father’s crime.
Next, in the Appeal brought by Minotiafter the Act, it was decided that Respondent was convicted not for murder but under Sec.304 of The Code when he had caused the death of his wife Ms.Revati by inflicting serious injuries on her.
Thereafter, Ms.Minoti, the minor daughter of a murderous father, through her next friend i.e., her grandmother, commenced proceedings in Civil Court for a declaration that an amount kept in the bank in the name of her mother belongs to her since she was the only legal heir left in the family as her father was disqualified under Sec.25 for his conviction.
The Lower Court allowed her claim to the extent of Rs.5831 in her mother’s account in the bank.But with reference to her claim for another amount of Rs.6800 as Prize Money on lottery tickets bought in her name, the Court passed orders that she has to file a fresh suit because such declaration cannot be given. However, The Court passed a restraint order against the father in not withdrawing the amount.
In Cross Appeals preferred by both daughter and father, High Courtgave only partial relief to the daughter by ALLOWING HER APPEAL, when Justice Dharmadhikari held that “the rule of public policy is that a person will not be able to take the advantage of his own crime. In this context, it is pertinent to note that the words used are ‘commits murder or abets the commission of murder’and not ‘is convicted of an offence of murder or of abetment of offence of murder’.Therefore it is clear that the Legislature has used the term murder in Sec.25 of The Act not in technical sense as defined in Sec.302 of The code but in a wider and popular sense, which must include in its import even culpable homicide or unlawful manslaughter. It is nether possible nor desirable to lay down general rule in this behalf, because to some extent it must depend on the facts of each case.”
Therefore His Lordship held that “he had decided the question of Disqualification under Sec.25 on the basis of the position as it stands today”(Emphasis Supplied)
Very strangely, despite father being disqualified even when his Appeal in Criminal case is pending in the High Court, yet, shockingly only partial relief was given to the innocent daughter.
It equally appears to be strange that Mr. Sushil was ‘disqualified though he was convicted for an offence other than murder’ in spite of the fact that a specific word ‘Murder’ was repeatedly used in the section.
There are a couple of cases decided after the Act came into force but not brought to the notice of the SC.
For instance, in an Appeal filed in 1973,after the death Sri Tulsi, his 3 sons, Sri Nathuram, Teja Lal and Budha and his 2 daughters, Ms.Sita and Kamala were the heirs left in the family. The Appellant, Sri Jamuna Das was the son of Nathuram. Nathuram was convicted for the murder of his two brothers and sister Sita. On the death of Lal, his share went to his wife Ms.Bhagawati. On being hanged for the murder, Nathuram’s share went to his son. Budha’s share went to his sister Kamala, who died in 1954.When The Uttar Pradesh Land Reforms Act, 1951 was introduced, Jamuna Das claimed the properties left by Ms.Kamala. Ms.Bhagwati opposed this claim.
The Lower Court and Additional Commissionerof Appeals under Land Reforms Act held that “the decision of the Criminal Court was not relevant to establish the fact that Nathuram murdered his brother and sister and since there was no other evidence, the murder was not proved” in allowing the claim of Appellant.
But in the appeal before the Board of Revenue under the same Act, it was held that “Nathuram committed murder on the strength of the conviction passed by Sessions Court and therefore, the appellant, being the son of murderer was also disqualified under Sec.25 of The Act.”
It was also held by The Board “that Tenancy Law, like The Land Reforms Act, 1951,was subject to general provisions of Hindu Law unless there was any provision to the contrary”.
But in the 2nd Appeal, Lord Justices G.C.Mathur and Sri Swarup of the Allahabad High Court held that “in the present case, the succession is governed by the statutory provisions contained in the Land Reforms Act and the law laid down therein cannot be altered or changed by any rule or principle not contained in the Statute itself. When the legislature laid down a particular line of succession and did not provide for the exclusion of anyone in that line on any ground, then it is not possible to engage exceptions or exclusion on ground of equity, justice and good conscience. The provisions of Secs.25 to 27 of The Act apply to succession under The Act and not to succession under other enactments”.(emphasis supplied)
The Appellant was not disqualified. No doubt the Land Reforms Act came to his protection. The hanging of his father also helped him in retaining the property.
There was one decision in England, like Mrs. Valliikannu, where The Court of Appeal ‘did not allow an innocent and unfortunate grandson to take the property left by his grandparents when they were killed by his father’.
The majority in Court of Appeal in RE DWS (deceased)did not allow the grandson, Mr.T to take the estateleft by both his grandparents, who were killed by his father, Mr.R, who was himself convicted and disqualified for the murder of his parents, by a strict interpretation and application of the provision in SEcs.46 and 47 of The Administration of Estates Act, 1925. (known as The AE Act) Despite agreeing with the majority, Lord Sedley,but expressing his powerful dissent in the harshness of the majority decision given against the grandson, firmly declined ‘to give the estate even to the remote heirs (the claimants) of the victims’ by declaring it as ‘Bona Vacantia’.
After severe criticism of the Court of Appeal’s decision above, The Law Commission in England has suggested some Amendmentsto reform the law.
Finally, Mr. Singaperaumal, was rightly disqualified when he was convicted for the murder of his father.
Naturally the approach followed in Vallikannu can be found ‘when proceedings were brought under Sec.25 against a person convicted for murder’, as it was very obvious without further argument, that ‘he or she has committed the murder on his conviction’.
Thus far, it can be accepted.
But a similar approach as above, though in reverse direction, was not followed when ‘a person was acquitted of the charge of murder’ because the Court exercising jurisdiction of civil nature, on re-examination of the evidence already examined in the criminal case,‘may disqualify such person since on the death of the victim,by drawing a somewhat controversial and an artificial distinction in the meaning to be given to the words ‘committing the murder’ and ‘conviction for murder’while interpreting the exacts words used in Sec.25 of The Act.
But, with greatest respect to both High Court as well the SC, Ms. Vallikannnu, an innocent wife was, unfortunately and unjustly, also disqualified as if she was also involved in the murder of her father-in-law along with her husbanddepending on the strength of a century-old decision of the Privy Council even when there is a clear legislative provision in The Act.
All the above decisions clearly demonstrate that the legal principles to be followed for applying the ‘The Rule’ even to the kith and kin of the murderer’ is still controversial and debatable topic.
It must be understood that Disqualification of any legal heir is a very serious issue as “it concerns an area in which difficult moral questions are intertwined with uncertain and often conflicting legal principles”
Sec. 25 is very clear that only ‘murderer’ but not his kith and kin like his wife, son or daughter can also be disqualified in matters of succession to the property of the victim.
The better approach is ‘to declare the murderer as deemed to have died before the victim’ and then ‘distribute the properties of the victim to all the legal heirs including the kith and kin of the murderer’ as per the provisions of the law applicable in those circumstances.
In the result the legal heirs of the disqualified murderer can enjoy ‘the financial support when they need such support when they are not deprived of the rights to succession by extending the disqualification rule in Sec. 25 against these innocent claimants.
The Court, while applying the ‘The Rule’ against the murderer, ‘can pass a restraint order not allowing him or her to meddle in the properties even after serving his punishment.
We hope and trust that the Highest Court in India may review the decision in Vallikannuwhen similar opportunity comes before the Court.
Alternatively we suggest the following Amendment to Sec. 25 of The Act to protect the rights of inheritance of innocent legal heirs of the murderer and by extending the disqualification rule to other crimes equally heinous so as produce deterrent effect.
Sec. 25. MURDERER OR PERSON CONVCIDTED OF ANY OF THE FOUR OFFENCE OR ABETTOR OF ANYM OF THOISE OFFENCES ALONE DISQUALIFIED
A PERSON CONVICTEDOF MURDER OR CULPABLE HOMICIDE NOT AMOUNTING TO MURDER OR RAPE OR OF ABETMENT OF THREE OFFENCES ALONESHALL BE DISQUALIFIED FROM TAKING THE PROERPTY LEFT BY THE DECEASSED, EITHER UNDER INTESTASTE OR TESTAMENTARY SUCCESSION OR OTHER PROPERTY IN FURTHERANCE OF THE SUCCESSION TO WHICH HE OR SHE IS CONVICDTED FOR ANY OF THE THREE OFFENCES OR FOR ABETMENT OF ANY OF THE THREE OFFENCES—
Provided that disqualification of the convict shall not become operative when an appeal is pending in The High Court or Supreme Court or until the expiry of the period given for the appeal or when an appeal is dismissed by The High Court of Supreme Court as the case may be.
Vallikannu V. Singaperumal AIR 2005 SC 2587
The High Court also confirmed the conviction.
It is not proposed to discuss ‘whether the High Court is right or wrong in deciding about the applicability of Sec.6 of the Act and what is the opinion of the SC on this point’ (as a second issue) as it is not relevant for this article.
 Secs.107 to 120 of The Indian Penal Code, 1860. (Hereinafter referred as ‘The Code’) explains about ‘Abetment, Abettor’ etc. in Criminal Law.
Ref.Sec.302 of The Code for the Definition of Murder.
Whether these words also apply to the First Part of the section is debatable.
 Is this always an essential requirement is also highly debatable since in none of the Appeals, the High Courts have examined whether the killing was carried out to accelerate the process of succession.
(1924) 51 IA 368 / AIR 1924 PC 209
 Vedanayaga Mudaliar V. Ms. Vedammal AIR 1942 Madras 277
Justices Subrahmania Aiyar & Boddam
‘No One can improve his condition by his delect’, (‘No one can take advantage by his delect’)
 Stanumurthiyya V. Ramappa (19040 14 Madras LJ 297
Sri Nakchand Singh V. Sri Bijay Bahadur Singh AIR 1953 All 759
Ms.Minoti V. Sri Sushil Kumar & Another AIR 1982 Bom 68
Id. at page 68, P 1& 2
 At his request, The Ex-parte Decree, that was already passed when he did not attend the proceedings as he was in jail, was set aside. Id. at 71, p 14
 Supra note 43 at page 69, P 2
Id. at page 71, P 13 The High Court also noted down the fact that both an Appeal and a Revision Petition challenging his conviction under Sec.304 and for not convicting her father for murder of her mother, respectively were pending before the Appellate Criminal Court.
Sri Jamuna Das V. Board of Revenue and others AIR 1973 All. 397
 Id, at 398, 399, P 2&7
 It is to be observed that the Lower Court has relied upon the decision of Apex Court in Sri Anil Behari Ghosh V. Ms. Latikabala Dassi AIR 1955 SC 566 (For full Report about this case, refer to Article ‘Murder and Forfeiture Rule’ published by Mr.C.S.Raghuraman in 2007 in The Supreme Court Journal, Hyderabad, at pages 1-16) to declare that the decision of Criminal Court is not relevant. But Board of Revenue followed the Reverse approach. But also refer to the latest decision on this issue in Shantikumar Panda V. Shakuntala Devi (2004) 1 SCC 438 wherein The Apex Court also declared that a decision given by Criminal Court does not bind the Civil Court while a decision given by the Civil Court binds the Criminal Court.”
Supra note 33 at 398, P 4
 Id. at 400, P 10. As comparison, refer to the ruling given by Lord Lane, with Lords Griffith and Webster in agreement, in R V. Chief National Insurance Commissioner (1981) 1 All ER 769 rejecting similar argument that a murderess of a husband can claim some property under separate legislation law ‘as disqualification of murderer is a general principle of law applicable in all situations’.
Lord Simon Brown, Lord Justice Aldous ‘wrote the majority opinion in giving the estate to the sisters of the victims rather than to grandson’.
Lord Simon Brown understood the importance of the argument of the Counsel for T that ‘if the estate is declared Bona Vancatia, the Crown gets powers to redistribute the estate to all the legal heirs including the grandson under the AE ACT, 1925’.
No man’s land. With this declaration the British Govt. The AE Act can take over the land and be free to distribute it to the legal heirs thereby giving a chance even to the grandson to get some share in the land.
1. Where a person kills a parent, spouse or other relative and forfeits a benefit under the victim’s intestacy, the estate should be distributed in the same way as if the killer had died immediately before the victim. 2. Where a testator is killed, and the killer forfeits a benefit under the testator’s will, the will should be implemented in the same way as if the killer had died immediately before the testator.3. Where either of these rules results in property being held for a descendant of the killer who is under 18 the Court should have power to direct the property to be held by the Public Trustee, who should have the duty of avoiding benefit to the killer. 4. Where a person disclaims an inheritance, whether from an intestate or under a will the estate should be distributed as if the person disclaiming had died immediately before the deceased. 5. Where a person loses a benefit under an intestacy by dying unmarried under the age of 18 (but after the intestate) and leaves children, the children should be allowed to inherit under that intestacy in the same way as if the parent had died immediately before the intestate.
The above recommendations, if found suitable to Indian society can also be looked into by the Legislature.
For a critical analysis of all most all the decisions under Sec. 25, refer to Article “MURDER AND FORFEITURE RULE” published by MR.C.S.Raghuraman in 2007 in The Supreme Court Journal, Hyderabad, at pages 1-16
It very interesting to observe what fresh evidence can there be in proceedings in Sec. 25 as it is very rare to have such evidence. Refer to the observations of the Karnataka High Court in G.S. Sadasiva V. M.C.Srinivasan (AIR 2001 Karn. 453 at page 455) that evidence already introduced in the criminal trail, but not new evidence, was again brought in under Sec.25.
This is the scenario ‘even when the claimant was completely acquitted of the charge of murder or convicted not for murder but for some other crime.’
Only Justice Yogeswar Dayal in Delhi High Court in Chaman Lal V. Mohan Lal and others (AIR 1977 Delhi 97, at page 99) refused to disqualify a wife when she was acquitted of murder of her husband by not agreeing to reopen the order as he was of opinion that it was final and no civil court can reopen it.
Supra at page 2592, p17
Their Lordships in SC also relied on some observations made in Text Books written by S.V.Gupta asnd Raghavachariar on this topic.
Refer also to the decision disqualifying Mrs Mohinder Kaur (Ms. Mohinder Kaur V. Sri Wasson Singh AIR 1968 Punjab 389) from taking the property left by her father-in-law under his WILL when her husband, one of his sons, killed his father.