Lucy Crawford considers the present legal challenge being brought by a long term partner who is not entitled to the statutory ‘bereavement award’ following the death of her partner due to medical negligence.
Under current law a bereavement ‘award’ in the sum of £12,980 is available to some relatives who have lost a loved one as a result of medical negligence. The list of individuals entitled to such an award under the present legislation is very limited and, whilst it includes spouses, does not include long term unmarried partners.
Currently, only a husband, wife, civil partner and parents of a minor are entitled to the bereavement award.
In January 2016, I wrote a blog looking at the difficulties with the present legislation and the Association of Personal Injury Lawyer’s (APIL) campaign for change in the law and the proposed Negligence and Damages Bill.
The Bill aims to extend this list to include cohabitees, siblings and grandparents (in Scotland, the law on bereavement damages already extends to cohabitees as well as other immediate family members such as parents or children). Until and if that happens, however, those individuals who are in a long term, loving and committed relationship and who essentially live as husband and wife are afforded no such rights to compensation.
Since my last blog was written, a second reading of the Negligence and Damages Bill was due to occur but unfortunately did not take place.
In the meantime, Ms Smith has brought the latest case challenging this unfair and outdated law over unmarried couples.
Ms Smith’s partner, Mr John Bulloch, a retired prison governor, died at the age of 66 in 2011 after an infection was missed by medical professionals and spread to his brain. At the time of Mr Bulloch’s unfortunate death, the couple had lived together for 11 years. Ms Smith became aware of the bereavement award and, as a result, she has launched a legal fight to improve the rights of unmarried couples.
She said: “Neither John or I were anti-marriage – we had both been married before – but that didn’t mean we weren’t in a meaningful, permanent relationship and totally committed to each other. We’re expected to live by society’s norms, but society’s norms are changing. Marriage rates are falling year on year, yet the law seems stuck in the past. John wasn’t one for ceremony, but he did believe in everyone being equal. It’s a point of principle. This is something I can fight for in his memory because I know he would agree with me. There are so many couples who don’t want to get married, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be treated the same. I’m not doing it for myself, I’m doing it for them.”
It is my view that Ms Smith’s case highlights even more the huge imbalance between married and unmarried couples within England and Wales, which needs urgent redress.
Ms Smith’s case will be against the Secretary of State for Justice and she will be arguing that the current legislation violates Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights in that it discriminates on the grounds of marital status and an individual’s right to respect for private and family life. It is due to be heard later this year and I will await the outcome with interest.