An accountant has won a legal fight over a Scottish baronetcy in a case which a lawyer says could have far-reaching implications for titled families.
Accountant Murray Pringle - who is in his 70s and comes from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire - and businessman Simon Pringle - who is in his 50s and lives near Hastings, East Sussex - had both laid claim to the baronetcy of Pringle of Stichill.
Seven judges analysed evidence at hearings of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London – and ruled in favour of Murray Pringle.
They said DNA evidence was a pointer to the rightful heir - and they said there was no legal ground for excluding DNA evidence.
One judge, Lord Hodge, said the case raised ‘’a question of general importance’’ about the use of DNA evidence ‘’to challenge an apparent heir’s entitlement to succeed to a title or to property by its exposure of irregular occurrences in previous generations of a family’’.
He said in the past an absence of scientific evidence meant that the ‘’presumption of legitimacy could rarely be rebutted’’ and claims based on assertions that ‘’irregular procreations had occurred in the distant past’’ were particularly difficult to establish.
But he said DNA evidence could ‘’re-open a family succession many generations into the past’’.
Specialist lawyer Andrew O’Keefe, Partner, head of the Contentious Trust and Probate Team at law firm Wedlake Bell, said the implications could be far reaching.
“Now that DNA evidence has been allowed in evidence to decide this dispute, it must, by corollary, mean that it is likely to be used in any future challenges of this nature,” he said.
“Therefore, this case could have far-reaching implications for titled families facing a challenge over succession.”
Another lawyer, Stephen King, who is head of dispute resolution at law firm Payne Hicks Beach, added: “The appliance of science has made a new conquest.”
Judges had heard that Charles II granted the baronetcy of Stichill - a village near Kelso, Roxburghshire - to Robert Pringle of Stichill and the ‘’male heirs from his body’’ on January 5 1683.
The tenth baronet, Sir Steuart Pringle - a retired Royal Marines commander who survived an IRA bomb attack - died in 2013 aged 84.
His son, Simon Pringle, and Murray Pringle - Simon Pringle’s second cousin - disagreed over who should claim the title.
Murray Pringle said Simon Pringle should not become the 11th baronet because there had been a ‘’break in the line of paternity’’. Tests showed that Sir Steuart’s DNA ‘’did not match that of the Pringle lineage’’, he said.
Judges said DNA evidence demonstrated to ‘’a high degree of probability’’ that Murray Pringle was the ‘’heir male’’.