Of all of the various duties that one might imagine the President of the Family Division to have, being in charge of whether the late Princess Margaret’s will should be unsealed and opened to find out whether an individual is her illegitimate child (said individual having ABSOLUTELY NO evidence) is not one I had in mind.
Yet we learn today that it has happened not once, but twice.
Re Benmusa 2017
This new judgment is short enough to set out in full
Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division :
- I have before me, as President of the Family Division, an application by Malika Benmusa dated 6 March 2017 and received by the court on 9 March 2017.
- The application was made on a Form N244. In answer to question 3 on the Form, What order are you asking the court to make and why? the applicant has said “To apply to unseal the will of the late Princess Margaret.” In answer to question 5, How do you want this application dealt with? she has placed a v against the words “without a hearing.” In answer to question 10, What information will you be relying on, in support of your application she has placed a v against the words “the evidence set out in the box below.” That reads as follows (I set out the manuscript exactly):
“My name was changed as a child as my date of birth, I belive around the age between 3 to 4 years old. My mother did not consent to this, but later on found out. I belive that both names are in the will. And it is explained. My father was in charge of my mother will, but failed to give me what is rightfully mine. So I belive this has been taken out of his hands and put back to the president of the Family Division (Sir James Munby.)”
Below that the applicant has signed the usual statement of truth.
- The practice in relation to the sealing of royal wills, and the actual events surrounding the sealing of the will of HRH Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, who died on 9 February 2002, were explained by the then President, Sir Mark Potter P, in Brown v HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and others  EWHC 1607 (Fam),  WTLR 1129, paras 6-10, and, on appeal, by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers CJ, giving the judgment of the Court of Appeal, in Brown v Executors of the Estate of HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother and others  EWCA Civ 56,  1 WLR 2327, paras 4-8. The circumstances in which a royal will might be unsealed, and the process by which and the persons by whom such an application might be made, were considered by the Court of Appeal in Brown, paras 35-48.
- The will of HRH Princess Margaret is contained in a sealed envelope which bears the following inscription:
“HRH PRINCESS MARGARET
SEALED PURSUANT TO THE ORDER DATED 19th JUNE 2002
NOT TO BE OPENED WITHOUT LEAVE OF THE PRESIDENT”
I have personally examined the envelope, but I have not opened it. I have not read the will of HRH Princess Margaret nor do I have any idea as to its contents.
- I have no hesitation in concluding that I should strike out the applicant’s claim. My reasons for doing so are shortly stated. The applicant has not articulated any intelligible basis for her claim. The facts alleged by the applicant neither assert nor identify in any intelligible way either any link with HRH Princess Margaret or any link with her will. The applicant has not identified the grounds or the source or sources of the various beliefs upon which she relies. In short, her application is hopelessly defective.
- The application is, accordingly, struck out.
The linked cases are more detailed, and set out the last time that this happened.
In that case, Mr Robert Brown alleged that he was the illegitimate son of Princess Margaret and that her will would prove it. It was perhaps unfortunate that the only material evidence he had in this regard was his birth certificate, showing that the two people who brought him up were registered as his parents. If that proves it, then I myself am now ninth in line to the throne, I fancy.
- In his affidavit of some 26 pages the Plaintiff states at the outset (at paras 1.1 and 1.2) that the purpose of his application is to identify whether the Royal wills make any provision for or concerning an illegitimate child, he having an interest in the matter because he claims that he is the illegitimate child of Princess Margaret.
- As part of the matters relied on in support of that claim, he produces a Kenyan birth certificate signed by Cynthia Joan Brown (nee Lyall) in which she names herself as his mother and states that he was born in Nairobi in Kenya on 5 January 1955, his father being Douglas Richard Brown, a builder by occupation. The relevant Kenyan Ordinance (No 2 of 1928 dated 9 June 1928), exhibited to the affidavit of the executors’ solicitor, Mr Bridges, states its purpose as being “to Provide for the Notification and Registration of Births and Deaths and Other Matters Incidental Thereto”. It makes clear that the registration of the birth of a child in Kenya was compulsory (section 8(1)) and that the provision of false information or particulars was a criminal offence (section 20).
- In law a birth certificate is prima facie evidence of all matters required by statute to be entered in the certificate: see re: Stollery  Ch. 284 at 310 and Jackson v Jackson & Pavan  P. 25 at 30. The birth certificate is thus prima facie evidence that the Plaintiff’s mother was Cynthia Brown. Furthermore, it is clear from the rest of his affidavit, that the Plaintiff accepts that Cynthia Brown, now deceased, recognised and brought him up as her own child. Curiously, he makes no reference to Douglas Richard Brown, named as his father in the birth certificate save, in passing, as follows. He states that he does not accept for the purposes of his application that his birth certificate is an accurate record on the grounds that such date is inconsistent with an entry in the ‘Births’ section of the Times of 7 January 1955 which gave his birthday as the 6 (not the 5) of January which, he adds, is also that recorded in the hand of “D R Brown” in his tax return for the year 1955. Nonetheless, in exhibited correspondence with the Treasury Solicitor, he refers to Douglas Brown as ‘the name of the gentleman that ‘raised’ me’; and in a letter addressed to Buckingham Palace in 2002 (see para 33 below) he makes reference to aspects of his upbringing by Douglas Brown. Thus it does appear that the Plaintiff was brought up by Cynthia and Douglas Brown (both now deceased) as their own child.
- At paragraph 42 of his affidavit the Plaintiff states:
“I have not been told that I am the illegitimate child of Princess Margaret, or even that I was adopted. It is a conclusion I have arrived at be [sic] deduction.”
At paragraph 2, he explains that process of deduction as follows:
“[M]y conclusion that I am the illegitimate child of Princess Margaret is based upon a jigsaw of personal recollections, events, circumstantial evidence, conversations, reactions and extensive research.”
- None of the matters subsequently set out at length remotely constitutes evidence supportive of the Plaintiff’s claim.
- At paragraph 2.3 the Plaintiff asserts in respect of Princess Margaret that “there could have been a hidden pregnancy.” In support, he states that Princess Margaret was reported as ill with a “rattling cough” during the “early days of 1955” and that “photographs suggest a growing waistline compared with the elfin waist of 1954”. He also refers to the record of a Privy Council meeting held on 5 January 1955, ostensibly to discuss measures to be adopted in the face of a threatened rail strike, and states that “Examination of the reports and subsequent events of the rail strike left me unconvinced that the reason for the Council meeting was the strike.”
- At paragraphs 4.1 to 4.4 of his affidavit he relies on his ‘Personal Outlook’ or ‘Instinct’ as being ‘the key element and driver’ of his claim, citing a sense of not belonging to the family environment in which he was brought up and refers to instances of members of his family in England having appeared reticent in responding to his enquiries about his origins. At paragraph 4.5 he describes the relationship of his ‘mother’ with his siblings as having been closer than with himself
The Court of Appeal (I think very kindly) had this to say about the foundation of his claim.
If you listen closely, you can hear a thousand conspiracy theories fermenting about this sealing of the will.
I think best left sealed up, in case the will establishes that James Delaney has no legitimate claim on Nootka Sound. You don’t want to upset James Delaney…