Grieving partner's court battle fails

A Chorley woman has failed in her High Court bid to win greater legal recognition for unmarried couples who suffer bereavement.

Thursday, 8th September 2016, 2:46 pm
Updated Monday, 12th September 2016, 5:00 pm
Undated family handout photo of Jakki Smith and John Bulloch. NHS worker Jakki is taking the Government to court for breaching her human rights after being denied bereavement damages when her partner died because they were not married. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Sunday May 22, 2016. Smith, 58, only discovered she was not entitled to the statutory award after the death of John, her partner of 16 years. 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. See PA story LEGAL Damages. Photo credit should read: PA/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may only be used in for editorial reporting purposes for the contemporaneous illustration of events, things or the people in the image or facts mentioned in the caption. Reuse of the picture may require further permission from the copyright holder.

But NHS worker Jakki Smith’s legal battle has led a sympathetic judge to express the hope that Parliament “might improve the current state of the law”.

Ms Smith, 58, claimed that her inability to claim bereavement damages after the death of her partner of 16 years was incompatible with the Human Rights Act.

The limitation appears under provisions of the 1976 Fatal Accidents Act.

Mr Justice Edis, sitting in London, ruled there was no incompatibility between the 1976 Act and Ms Smith’s convention rights and said he had no power to intervene.

But he described how a previous Labour government had published a draft Bill to remedy the problem, which never became law, and the Law Commission had also made recommendations in favour of reform.

The judge said: “It is to be hoped that the outcome of this litigation may provoke some further discussion in Parliament for further legislation which might improve the current state of the law.”

Ms Smith discovered she was not entitled to bereavement damages, which are paid out if a person dies as a result of negligence - but only to spouses or civil partners, when retired prison governor John Bulloch, 66, died in October 2011 after an infection was missed.

The mother-of-one, who had been with Mr Bulloch since 1995 and lived with him for 11 years, said she brought the case at London’s High Court to improve the rights of unmarried couples.

Ms Smith’s counsel, Vikram Sachdeva QC, told Mr Justice Edis at a two-day hearing in July that her claim for a declaration against the Secretary of State for Justice was not about money or a marginal boost to the family finances.

He said: “It is symbolic recognition. It is about state recognition of the closeness of a relationship and the emotional loss suffered and we say that is plainly within the ambit of Article 8.

“It’s not really compensation for anything you can measure.

“It is a token sum - a symbolic sum - which recognises the grief that is highly likely to occur following the loss of a close loved one.”