The murderous peer's son is applying to have his father finally declared dead so he can at last inherit his true title, says Hannah Blakey of Maurice Turnor Gardner
The son of the fugitive peer Lord Lucan, George Bingham, has applied to the High Court to have his father declared 'presumed dead', in a mystery that has captured the public's imagination ever since Lord Lucan vanished from his home in 1974 following the murder of the family nanny, Sandra Rivett. An inquest jury declared Lord Lucan the killer a year later.
There has been no formal sighting of Lord Lucan since 8 November 1974, when he visited the home of a friend in Sussex in the early hours of the morning following the murder. Since then, his fate remains unknown, although thousands of sightings have been reported across the globe.
In 1999, Lord Lucan was officially declared dead by the High Court. This granted the family probate over the estate. However, that declaration could not deal with all the administrative issues. Most interestingly, a request by George Bingham, Lord Lucan's son and heir, to use his father's title and so become 8th Earl of Lucan, was rejected by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who declared he was 'not satisfied' with the case.
To remedy this incompleteness (and in preparation for his upcoming marriage), George Bingham has now applied to the High Court for a declaration under the Presumption of Death Act 2013 (PDA 2013). This act, which came into force on 1 October 2014, allows the High Court to make a single declaration that a missing person, who is thought to have died or who has not been known to be alive in the last seven years, is presumed to have died.
There is an opportunity for the declaration to be appealed but, if there is no appeal, the declaration is considered to be conclusive of an individual's death.
This declaration enables the family of the missing person to deal with their financial and legal affairs as if that person had died. Any property will pass to others as directed by the person's will or, if no will was in place, as under the statutory intestacy rules which apply when a person dies without leaving a will. A declaration also brings the missing person's marriage or civil partnership to an end.
Most importantly for George Bingham, if his application to the High Court is successful, the declaration may also allow him to lay claim to his father's title and, at some point in the future, pass it onwards to an heir of his own.
George Bingham has claimed that the process will bring him 'closure'. While the PDA 2013 is still very much in its infancy, the legislation is a positive step to reduce the legal and financial burden on the families of long-term missing people.
Hannah Blakey works and boutique private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP