Wednesday 7 March 2012

Is this the most sordid ever? Ibuna v. Arroyo

When I first started in law, I dealt exclusively with crime and that was sordid.  Then I moved into family and that was more sordid.  However, until now I have always maintained that the most sordid work I do is contested probate.  What can be worse than arguing over the property of someone who has just died?  Well now there's an answer to that - arguing over a dead body!

It seems that Congressman Arroyo was a high profile member of the Philippines legislature.  He was resident in both California and the Philippines and was domiciled, unsurprisingly, in the Philippines.  In the early 90's he married for the second time but by 2005 that marriage had ended in separation.  In 2006, he formed a new relationship with Ms. Ibuna and started annulment proceedings - we need to remember that the Philippines is a largely Catholic nation and annulment is to be preferred to divorce.  Mrs. Arroyo litigated against him, securing an order excluding him from their family home in 2006.

In 2009, the Congressman made a will which in broad terms gave Ms. Iguna a life interest in his estate with the remainder going to his three daughters.  In January 2012, the Congressman was in London for medical treatment - it seems that he had been ill for some time and had often come to London for treatment.  On 26th January, he sadly died.  By the time of his death, the annulment proceedings had still not concluded, so technically Mrs. Arroyo was in fact his widow. 

So then the arguments really begin and they're all about the corpse!  The Congressman's partner was well aware of his wishes for his funeral and other formalities and wished to carry them out.  The Congressman's estranged wife was prepared to do the same but with one significant amendment - the Congressman had expressed the wish that the wake should be held at his family home.  Mrs. Arroyo wanted to hold it at the former matrimonial home which coincidentally was in the same street.  However, the suggestion in evidence was that if the wake took place there, the Congressman's partner of the last five or six years of his life wouldn't be allowed to attend.

As a result of this disagreement, the High Court Chancery Division had to hold two interim hearings and then a whole day hearing.  Unsurprisingly, especially given that  Mrs. Arroyo didn't participate in the hearing, the decision was to honour the Congressman's designation of his partner as his next of kin, with the support of at least two of his daughters.  So by order of the English High Court, one presumes that the wake will now take place at 14, Badjao Street and not at 17, Badjao Street.  Another triumph of British Justice, the envy of all the world!

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