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Appeal Success - Greater Recognition for Bereaved Unmarried Couples

You may recall having read a blog written by my colleague, Holly Edwards, published on 30 August 2016 entitled ‘Bereavement and Cohabitees’ as well as my follow up blog from 27 September 2016 entitled ‘Cohabitees still not Eligible for Bereavement Award’.

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Human rights

Both of those blogs referred to a lady called Jakki Smith, who was pursuing a legal case against the government, arguing that the failure to recognise her loving and devoted relationship to her long term partner, just because they were not married, and therefore not to award her the statutory bereavement award, was a violation of her human rights in respect of the right to freedom from discrimination and the right to respect for private and family life.

In law if you are cohabiting with your partner (regardless of how long you have been together) but you are not married, you are not entitled to receive a statutory bereavement award if your partner passes away as a result of negligence.

This is because you do not fall into one of the limited classes of persons eligible for that award as listed in the Fatal Accidents Act. The bereavement award is, according to the government, there to provide a token payment in acknowledgement of the grief caused by the death. Yet Jakki Smith, who had lived with her long term partner as man and wife, between March 2000 and October 2011, when Ms Smith’s partner sadly died, was not eligible for acknowledgement of the grief she suffered as a result of her partner’s death because they were not married.

Law is out of date

Ms Smith argued that the grief she experienced as a result of losing her long term partner was no less than the grief suffered by a married person who has lost their spouse, and she argued the law is out of date given how so many couples chose to cohabit rather than marry.

In late 2016 the High Court dismissed Ms Smith’s application stating that the bereavement damages scheme did not violate the claimant’s right to respect for her private and family life.

At the time of writing my previous blog, I noted calls were being made for a change in the law on this issue, and that we would just have to wait to find out if Jakki Smith would appeal the decision and whether action would be taken to rectify this error in the law.

Won greater legal recognition

Yesterday, the Guardian newspaper reported that Jakki did appeal and has now won her battle for greater legal recognition for bereaved unmarried couples.

The article reports that on Tuesday the Court of Appeal allowed Jakki’s challenge against the High Court ruling dismissing her claim and that ruling was set aside. Jakki has reportedly stated that she is over the moon by the recent decision, which now recognises her meaningful relationship, and she has commented that society has moved on and so the law should be changed to reflect that.

This is very welcome news, and hopefully is a sign that change is happening and cohabiting couples will receive the recognition that is deserved of their devotion and love for their partners, and the grief they experience upon the loss of that loved one, regardless of their marital status.

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