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Judge Rules in Favour of Woman Who Was Denied Bereavement Damages After Partner’s Tragic Death

Judge Rules in Favour of Woman Who Was Denied Bereavement Damages After Partner’s Tragic Death

An unmarried woman who launched a landmark case against the Government after she was denied bereavement damages when her partner died has won her battle for justice.

NHS worker Jakki Smith, 59, only discovered she wasn't entitled to the statutory award after the death of her partner John Bulloch - because they were not married.

The fixed sum of £12,980 is paid out if a person dies as a result of negligence – but only to spouses or civil partners.

Jakki took the Government to court for breaching her human rights and this week, six years after John’s death, the Court of Appeal ruled in her favour.

This means that the matter will now be referred to Parliament for them to consider whether there will be  a change in the law.

This is an historic decision, and one that is long overdue. The Law Commission has previously recommended that cohabiting couples should be eligible for bereavement damages. Significantly, the Government also produced a draft bill in 2009, although it was never progressed.

Jakki, a mum-of-one from Chorley in Lancashire, who lived with John, a retired prison governor, for 11 years prior to his death, said she was thrilled with the court’s decision.

She said: “John and I didn’t need a piece of paper to prove our love and commitment to each other. We had been together for 16 years – longer than a lot of marriages – but like so many other couples, we had simply decided that getting married wasn’t for us.

“Until John died I hadn’t realised that our relationship would be treated any differently and when I did it just struck me as hurtful and unfair that it could be considered less meaningful because of that. John and I had planned a life together, we were in it for the long run and the fact that our bond wasn’t recognised, simply because we hadn’t chosen to marry was very upsetting.

“That’s why I’m over the moon with the court’s decision and I hope that the change in law will have a positive impact on other people who, for whatever reason, choose not to marry.”

In Jakki’s case against the Secretary of State for Justice, lawyers argued that the current legislation was in breach of articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights in that it discriminates against Jakki on the grounds of her non-marital status and her right to respect for family life. 

In Scotland, the law on bereavement damages already extends to cohabitees as well as other immediate family members such as parents or children. 

Jakki added: “If you are living together the Government classes you as a couple for the purpose of payments like council tax and Jobseeker’s Allowance, so why not when it comes to this?
“There’s no longer a taboo around being unmarried; attitudes have changed, society has moved on and the law needs to be changed to reflect that. 

“For me it’s the principle and as marriage rates fall year on year it’s for those people who find themselves in this position.  

“Nothing will bring John back, but he was a firm believer in everyone being treated equally and I think he would have agreed with me that this is worth fighting for.

 “Just because John and I hadn’t said vows to each other and didn’t wear wedding rings didn’t mean we weren’t completely committed to each other.

“My fight has never been for the money, it’s about having meaningful relationships recognised. This result won’t make any difference to me – I won’t get a penny from it as you can’t get a retrospective payment. I just hope what has happened helps other people who may find themselves in this tragic situation.”

Zak Golombeck, a human rights lawyer from Slater and Gordon, who represents Jakki, said he was delighted with the court’s decision.

He said: “This is an historic decision, and one that is long overdue. The Law Commission has previously recommended that cohabiting couples should be eligible for bereavement damages. Significantly, the Government also produced a draft bill in 2009, although it was never progressed.  

“The way we live is changing. Couples are choosing not to marry but this does not detract from the bond they have. My client had been with her partner, John, for 16 years and they were totally committed to each other.

“The Court of Appeal have made clear in their judgment that Jakki and John’s relationship was equal in every respect to a marriage in terms of love, loyalty and commitment. We hope that Parliament will now rectify the incompatibility and bring this legislation into the 21st Century. ”