Unmarried woman wins legal fight

A lady who went to court in an attempt to secure greater rights for unmarried men and women has won her legal battle.

Jakki Smith’s partner John Bulloch, who she had been with for 16 years, had died in 2011 after medics had failed to spot an infection following a routine operation on his foot.

Spouses and civil partners are entitled to a fixed sum of £12,980 if their other half dies as a consequence of negligence.

But since Ms Smith was not actually married to Mr Bulloch, she did not receive the bereavement damages.

This prompted her to launch legal action against the Government, on the grounds that her human rights had been infringed. She argued that the pay-out should be made available to anyone who had been in a relationship with the deceased for more than two years.

The High Court had previously dismissed her case, but its decision has now been overturned by the Court of Appeal.

Ms Smith, from Chorley, in Lancashire, said she was “over the moon” with the result.

“It felt unfair to me because I couldn’t have the bereavement damages,” she said. “I felt they were saying: ‘You weren’t married, you weren’t bereaved, it didn’t count’. I wanted it to count.

“John and I had planned a life together, we were in it for the long run and the fact that our bond wasn’t recognised, simply because we hadn’t chosen to marry, was very upsetting.”

She hopes that in light of the outcome, the Government will now consider changing the law.

Graeme Fraser, a Family Partner at OGR Stock Denton, said: “[The] Court of Appeal decision demonstrates a recognition that current legislation denying unmarried partners eligibility for bereavement damages as a result of negligence is a breach of the human rights legislation.

“It reflects the courts’ recognition that commitment in an unmarried couple’s relationship is on an equal footing with that of a married couple or same sex civil partners. The decision coincides with Resolution’s Cohabitation Awareness Week which highlights the unfairness and lack of rights for unmarried couples who wrongly believe they have the same rights as those of married couples.

“Specific family law based legislation recognising the rights for cohabiting couples is needed to provide further automatic or discretionary property rights. Until such legislation is placed, unmarried couples are urged to take specific family law advice in all instances rather than risk the lack of basic legal protections in the event they split up.”

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