Unmarried woman wins landmark legal fight over bereavement damages

Jakki Smith has won a landmark battle for greater legal recognition for unmarried couples who suffer bereavement. Credit: PA

A woman has won her landmark battle for greater legal recognition for unmarried couples who suffer bereavement.

Jakki Smith, who lost her partner of 16 years in October 2011, argued that her inability to claim bereavement damages was a breach of her human rights.

The 59-year-old NHS worker, of Chorley, Lancashire, discovered she was not entitled to the sum of £11,800, which is paid out if a person dies as a result of negligence - but only to spouses or civil partners - after 66-year-old John Bulloch died after an infection was missed.

Mr Bulloch, a former prison governor, underwent the removal of a benign tumour on his right foot in August 2011 and fell ill while on holiday in Turkey.

On Tuesday, the Court of Appeal allowed her challenge against a High Court ruling dismissing her claim.

The Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, Lord Justice McCombe and Sir Patrick Elias set aside a ruling by Mr Justice Edis last year that there was no incompatibility between the 1976 Fatal Accidents Act and Ms Smith's Convention rights.

Mr Justice Edis said he had no power to intervene - although he added that the current law was in need of reform.

Zak Golombeck, of law firm Slater and Gordon, who represented Ms Smith, said:

This is an historic decision, and one that is long overdue.

Zak Golombeck

Ms Smith, who was not in court, said she was "over the moon" with the decision.

She said:

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.

Ms Smith

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

Vikramm Sachdeva QC said it was implicitly conceded that there was no lawful justification for withholding bereavement damages from people who had lived with their partners for at least two years.

Ms Smith said:

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?

Ms Smith