Unmarried woman wins landmark legal fight over bereavement damages

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.

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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.

Jakki Smith and John Bulloch. (Slater and Gordon/PA)
Jakki Smith and John Bulloch. (Slater and Gordon/PA)

Zak Golombeck, of law firm Slater and Gordon, who represented Ms Smith, said: "This is an historic decision, and one that is long overdue.

"The Law Commission has previously recommended that cohabiting couples should be eligible for bereavement damages.

"Significantly, the Government also produced a draft Bill in 2009, although it was never progressed.

"The way we live is changing. Couples are choosing not to marry but this does not detract from the bond they have.

"My client had been with her partner, John, for 16 years and they were totally committed to each other.

"The Court of Appeal have made clear in their judgment that Jakki and John's relationship was equal in every respect to a marriage in terms of love, loyalty and commitment.

"We hope that Parliament will now rectify the incompatibility and bring this legislation into the 21st century. "