Bereavement damages: Unmarried Chorley woman wins legal fight

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Media caption,
"It was never about the money... it was about the principle"

A woman has won her legal battle for better rights for unmarried people who lose their long-term partners.

NHS worker Jakki Smith, from Chorley, Lancashire, took the government to court for breaching her human rights in denying her bereavement damages.

A fixed sum of £12,980 is paid out if a person dies as a result of negligence - but only to spouses or civil partners.

Her partner of 16 years, John Bulloch, died aged 66 in 2011 after an infection was missed by medics.

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.

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Jakki Smith and John Bulloch were together for 16 years

The Court of Appeal allowed Ms Smith's challenge against a High Court ruling dismissing her claim.

'Historic decision'

In court, her legal team had argued the current legislation was in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

They said the award should be available to anyone who had been in a relationship for at least two years.

Her lawyer, Zac Golombeck, said the ruling was a "historic decision" and "long overdue".

The Law Commission previously recommended co-habiting couples should be eligible for bereavement damages and the government also produced a draft bill in 2009, although it was never progressed, he added.

Ms Smith, 59, who was not in court, said she was "over the moon" as she had found it "hurtful and unfair" that her relationship could be considered "less meaningful".

"It felt unfair to me because I couldn't have the bereavement damages. 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."

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Ms Smith, pictured outside court at a previous hearing, said her legal fight was "never about the money"

Ms Smith said she would not get any money from the decision as there is no possibility of a retrospective payment.

Ms Smith said: "Nothing will bring John back, but he was a firm believer in everyone being treated equally and I think he would have agreed with me that this is worth fighting for.

"Just because John and I hadn't said vows to each other and didn't wear wedding rings didn't mean we weren't completely committed to each other."My fight has never been for the money, it's about having meaningful relationships recognised.

"I just hope what has happened helps other people who may find themselves in this tragic situation."

Ms Smith said she was "optimistic and hopeful" the government would now consider changing the legislation.

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