Legal test case begins of grieving woman suing the government

Jakki Smith and her partner John BullochJakki Smith and her partner John Bulloch
Jakki Smith and her partner John Bulloch
THE legal test case has begun in London of a Chorley woman suing the government for 'symbolic recognition' of her bereavement.

Jakki Smith, 58, lost her partner of 16 years due to medical negligence, but because the pair were not married she could not claim bereavement damages.

The mother of one, who had been with John Bulloch since 1995 and lived with him for 11 years, says she is bringing the case at London’s High Court to improve the rights of unmarried couples.

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Her counsel, Vikram Sachdeva QC, told Mr Justice Edis today that her claim for a declaration against the Secretary of State for Justice was not about money.

“It is symbolic recognition. It is about recognition of the closeness of a relationship and the emotional loss suffered and we say that is plainly within the ambit of Article 8 of the Human Rights Act – the right to a private and family life.”

He said that statute permitted a cohabitee of two years or more to recover dependency damages, but not to have the closeness of the relationship with the deceased recognised formally by the state, by means of a “token” sum.

“It’s not really compensation for anything you can measure. It is a token sum – a symbolic sum – which recognises the grief that is highly likely to occur following the loss of a close loved one.”

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Mr Sachdeva said that the legislature had set categories where it was likely that grief would be experienced and these had been criticised by reformers as being too narrow.

David Blundell, for the Government, said that Ms Smith’s claim is without merit and should be dismissed. He says that the limitation of the right to claim bereavement damages under the 1976 Fatal Accidents Act, which excludes unmarried partners of the deceased, does not engage Article 8.

Jakki, an NHS worker, previously told the Evening Post: “Changing the law won’t make a difference to me now. But I want to do it because it will matter to people in the future because society is changing.

“I am campaigning for the law to be changed – I want the government to recognise that long-term relationships are just as committed as those who have gone through a formal ceremony.”