In a recent court case, only awarding damages to a married partner was ruled to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Currently, only married couples are eligible for bereavement damages where the spouse had died as a result of negligence. The payment is a fixed sum of £12,980, which was automatically denied to Jakki Smith as she was not married to her partner John Bulloch. Mr Bulloch died in 2011 after medics missed an infection following an operation.
Ms Smith won her battle against the government in November 2016 at the Court of Appeal, after a High Court ruling dismissed her claim. Her legal team ruled it a “historic decision” and “long overdue”. Ms Smith and Mr Bulloch had spent 16 years together and even though there is no possibility of a retrospective payment, Ms Smith hopes the ruling will pave the way for others in her situation.
The Law Commission has previously recommended that bereavement damages should be paid to the remaining spouse of co-habiting couples. The Government produced a draft bill in 2009 but it was never progressed. Zak Golombeck, a human rights lawyer from Slater and Gordon, the firm which represented Ms Smith, said "We hope that Parliament will now rectify the incompatibility and bring this legislation into the 21st Century." A Ministry of Justice spokesman later stated “We have noted the judgment and are considering it carefully.”
As we outlined in our previous blog post, co-habiting couple families are the fastest growing family type in the UK, growing by 29.7% between 2004 and 2014. In a recent survey conducted by Resolution, an organisation for family lawyers and other professionals in the UK, four out of five co-habitants agreed that the legal rights of cohabiting couples are unclear. It may come as a surprise to many that long-term partners are not entitled to damages or other payments resulting from a bereavement.
This landmark ruling should help to highlight the urgency for reform to bring legislation into line with modern life. In the meantime, couples should ensure that a Will covers everything else that is in their control. An up-to-date Will which makes provisions for a long-term partner is one way to negate the requirement for a marriage in order for your partner to be looked after when the time comes.
Following the wishes in a Will is just one part of administering an estate once someone passes away. At Kings Court Trust, we take on all of the financial and legal work, ensuring that the estate assets and liabilities are dealt with completely, offering peace of mind for those left behind. If you would like to know more, speak to our Client Services Team on 0300 303 900 or email ClientServicesTeam@kctrust.co.uk.