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High Court Urges Reform of Bereavement Compensation for an Unmarried Partner

A judges at the High Court has urged parliament to introduce legislation to change the law relating to bereavement compensation for an unmarried partner.

In 2011, John Bulloch (66) – a retired prison governor from Chorley in Lancashire – died when an infection was overlooked by his doctors and it spread to his brain. John´s partner of sixteen years – Jakki Smith – made a claim for medical negligence compensation against the NHS and also claimed bereavement compensation for an unmarried partner.

Under the Fatal Accidents Act 1974, bereavement compensation of £12,980 can be claimed by a spouse or civil partner when the other partner has died due to negligence. Jakki´s medical negligence claim was settled on the grounds that she and John had lived together for more than two years and she was entitled to dependency damages. However her claim for bereavement compensation for an unmarried partner was denied because she and John had never married.

Jakki argued that couples in verifiable long-term relationships should be treated the same as married couples and took her claim to the High Court. Her case was heard in September by Mr Justice Edis, who ruled there is no compatibility between the Fatal Accidents Act and Jakki´s assertion that she was being denied her right to private and family life under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, and unjustified discrimination under Article 14.

Although rejecting her argument, Judge Edis commented he hoped the outcome of the case would urge parliament to introduce legislation to change the law relating to bereavement compensation for an unmarried partner. He said: “Legislation was thought necessary by the Law Commission and the government in 2009 to achieve this reform and I agree with them.” (In 2009, the government published draft proposals with this aim, but they never became law).

A spokesman for the Ministry of Justice commented: “While no payment can provide adequate financial compensation for the grief felt at the loss of a loved one, there are bereavement damages available to a person’s spouse or civil partner or to their parents if they were under 18. There are no plans to change the law at this time.” Jakki intends to appeal the High Court ruling and seeks a reinterpretation of the current legislation so that couples who have “lived as man and wife” for over two years are entitled to bereavement compensation for unmarried couples.