The Ampthill Peerage Case: HL 1977

There was a dispute about the legitimacy of an heir to the title. New evidence had been discovered after the trial.
Held: The House considered whether a new trial of an action might be ordered after discovery of new evidence: ‘The law knows, and we all know, that sometimes fresh material may be found, which perhaps might lead to a different result, but, in the interests of peace, certainty and security it prevents further enquiry. It is said that in doing this, the law is preferring justice to truth. That may be so: these values cannot always coincide. The law does its best to reduce the gap. But there are cases where the certainty of justice prevails over the possibility of truth . . and these are cases where the law insists on finality.’
However: ‘For a policy of closure to be compatible with justice, it must be attended with safeguards: so the law allows appeals: so the law, exceptionally, allows appeals out of time, so the law still more exceptionally allows judgments to be attacked on the ground of fraud.’
Having a particular status in law means ‘the condition of belonging to a class in society to which the law ascribes peculiar rights and duties, capacities and incapacities.’ (Lord Simon of Glaisdale)

Lord Wilberforce considered the status of legitimacy: ‘There can hardly be anything of greater concern to a person than his status as the legitimate child of his parents: denial of it, or doubts as to it, may affect his reputation, his standing in the world, his admission into a vocation, or a profession, or into social organisations, his succession to property, his succession to a title. It is vitally necessary that the law should provide a means for any doubts which may be raised to be resolved, and resolved at a time when witnesses and records are available. It is vitally necessary that any such doubts once disposed of should be resolved once and for all and that they should not be capable of being reopened whenever, allegedly, some new material is brought to light which might have borne upon the question.’

Lord Wilberforce, Lord Simon of Glaisdale
[1977] AC 547
England and Wales
Cited by:
CitedCouwenbergh v Valkova CA 27-May-2004
The deceased’s family lived in Europe. The defendant had moved in as tenant and had become confidante and friend over many years. A will had been prepared leaving everything to the defendant. That will had been challenged alleging incorrect . .
CitedIn Re R (Parental responsibility: IVF baby); D (A Child), Re HL 12-May-2005
The parents had received IVF treatment together, but had separated before the child was born. The mother resisted an application by the father for a declaration of paternity.
Held: The father’s appeal failed. The Act made statutory provision . .
CitedJ v S T (Formerly J) CA 21-Nov-1996
The parties had married, but the male partner was a transsexual, having been born female and having undergone treatment for Gender Identity Dysphoria. After IVF treatment, the couple had a child. As the marriage broke down the truth was revealed in . .
CitedJudge v Judge and others CA 19-Dec-2008
The wife appealed against an order refusing to set aside an earlier order for ancillary relief in her divorce proeedings, arguing that it had been made under a mistake. The sum available for division had had deducted an expected liabiliity to the . .
CitedAB v CD FD 24-May-2013
The Applicant AB, a lesbian woman aged 37, applied for contact to twin boys, E and F, aged 3. In making that application, she described herself as the boys’ ‘parent’; she ws so defined on the boys’ birth certificates. For the first 17 months of . .
CitedTakhar v Gracefield Developments Ltd and Others SC 20-Mar-2019
The claimant appellant alleged that properties she owned were transferred to the first defendant under undue influence or other unconscionable conduct by the second and third defendants. The claim was dismissed. Three years later she claimed to set . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Litigation Practice, Children

Updated: 21 January 2022; Ref: scu.197976