DNA evidence ends dispute over title

A retired accountant has won the right to inherit a historic aristocratic title because of the results of a DNA test.

For the first time in history, DNA evidence has been used to resolve a dispute over an inherited title. Tests which were carried out as part of a family history project in 2010 revealed that the 10th baronet of Stichill, Sir Steuart Pringle, was actually not part of the male Pringle family line.

This discovery meant that at some time in the past, there had been a paternity deception and one of the heirs had not been legitimate. The Queen herself stepped in and referred the dispute over the baronetcy of Stichill to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) so they could make a final ruling.

This week the seven judges who sit on the JCPC decided 74-year-old Murray Pringle, from High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire, was entitled to be the next holder of the Scottish title.

Stichill is a village in Roxburghshire and the baronetcy was granted to Robert Pringle of Stichill in 1683 to be passed down along the paternal line. When Sir Steuart died at the age of 84 in 2013, shortly after discovering he was not part of the Pringle line, other members of the family argued that his title should not pass to his son, Simon Pringle.

Instead Murray Pringle, who is Simon’s second cousin, argued he was the rightful heir to the title.

It is believed that the issue arose when the eighth baronet, Sir Norman Pringle, died in 1919. The title passed to his eldest son Norman but DNA evidence suggests they were not actually biologically related.

Accountant argued he was rightful baronet

Murray argued that his father Ronald, who was Sir Norman’s second son, would have inherited the title had it been known at the time that Norman was not his biological son. However, lawyers representing Simon Pringle argued that DNA evidence should not be used to settle the dispute.

The JCPC said there was no reason to exclude DNA test results from the proceedings. It concluded that the evidence showed there was “a high degree of probability” that Norman was not the biological son of the eighth baronet.

As a result of this conclusion, the judges decided the title should pass to Murray who was the grandson of the eighth baronet and a legitimate member of the Pringle family line.

They said: “In the past, the 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.

“Not so now, DNA evidence [can] reopen a family succession many generations into the past.”

Disputes over paternity do not usually involve aristocratic titles but they can affect people from all walks of life. Doubts over whether someone is the biological father of a child can lead to arguments and even break up families.

Paternity tests can give people the answers they need to move forward and make informed decisions for the future. AlphaBiolabs offers peace of mind paternity tests for the general public as well as legal DNA tests which follow a strict set of procedures so the results can be submitted as evidence in court proceedings if necessary.

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