42 years after Lord Lucan vanished following the murder of his children’s nanny, the High Court has issued a death certificate for him, thereby enabling his son Lord Bingham to become the eighth Earl of Lucan. 

The case follows the introduction of the Presumption of Death Act which came into force on 1 October 2014. 

Prior to this Act coming into force, there was a rebuttable presumption that a missing person was dead after seven years if those who would have been likely to have contact from him had not heard anything of him for that length of time or more. This presumption enabled relatives to apply to the High Court for specific purposes, but it did not enable the court to make a general declaration of death for all purposes.

The Presumption of Death Act came into effect in 2014 following a campaign supported by relatives of a number of high profile missing people including the Manic Street Preachers guitarist, Richey Edwards, whose car was found abandoned near the Severn Bridge in 1995 and chef Claudia Lawrence who disappeared in York in 2009. 

The Act enables the court to make a declaration of presumed death if it is satisfied that a missing person has died and has not been known to be alive for a period of at least seven years. There is a prescribed formula for the court to apply to specify a date and time of death. When a declaration is made, the court will send a copy of it to the Registrar General who will maintain a Register of Presumed Deaths. A sealed or stamped certified copy of an entry in the Register of Presumed Deaths is proof of death and serves the same purpose as a death certificate. 

There have been decades of speculation as to Lord Lucan’s whereabouts following his disappearance the night his children’s nanny, Sandra Rivett, was murdered in 1974. The family were granted probate over Lord Lucan’s estate in 1999 but no death certificate was issued and his son, Lord Bingham, was refused permission to take his father’s seat in the House of Lords. The declaration of presumed death made yesterday by the High Court enables Lord Bingham to now take his father’s title and become the next Lord Lucan.