Legal experts are set to make recommendations on whether or not killers such as Eamonn Lillis should be barred from inheriting assets, such as the family home, from their victims.
The review by the Law Reform Commission - due to be completed in late July - is also examining if judges should be given discretion in such cases, particularly where a manslaughter follows lengthy periods of violence, such as domestic abuse.
The development comes as Lillis was due to be released late last night or early this morning from Wheatfield Prison. It followed a day of speculation that he was about to be released, resulting in media camping outside the gates of the west Dublin jail since early yesterday.
Lillis has served five years of his almost seven-year sentence for the manslaughter of his wife, Celine Cawley, at their home in Howth, north Dublin, in December 2008.
An acrimonious legal dispute with his daughter, Georgia, and his wife’s siblings, regarding the proceeds from the sale of the Howth house ended in the High Court in 2011. This judgement led to the setting up of a review by the Law Reform Commission, an independent statutory body.
Under the Succession Act 1965, a person should not be able to inherit any part of the estate of a person whom she or he has murdered; attempted to murder; or killed in circumstances amounting to manslaughter.
The commission said that “certain difficulties” connected with this provision had come to light in spousal homicides where the killer and the deceased were joint owners of property, such as the family home. In such scenarios, as in the Lillis case, the property automatically passes to the surviving joint owner.
Ms Cawley’s brother, Chris, and sister, Susanna, along with Ms Cawley’s and Mr Lillis’s daughter Georgia, took a High Court action challenging his right to any share of the joint assets.
Mr Lillis argued he had vested interests in the Howth property before his wife’s death and these were property rights protected by the Constitution.
Ms Justice Mary Laffoy said that “in the absence of legislation” the court had “no power or jurisdiction” to interfere with the defendant’s rights.
Ms Justice Laffoy came up with a novel solution after the defendant, at a late stage, conceded that he would hold his wife’s share of the property in a trust for himself and the estate of the deceased. The judge added that “ideally, there should be legislation in place” which prescribes the destination of such properties.
Commission director of research, Ray Byrne, said they hoped to have their research published by the end of July. He said they had received a wide range of submissions, but declined to say who they came from.
He said that any legal recommendations would be accompanied by a draft bill.
He said in addition to the Cawley v Lillis case, they were examining whether or not judges should be given discretion, as in Britain, Northern Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.
This could arise in cases where the manslaughter follows lengthy domestic abuse and violence.
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