Bereaved co-habitee in unique human rights case

Posted: 6th July 2012

A mother denied compensation after her partner was killed in a work-place accident is asking a High Court judge to declare that the terms of the 1976 Fatal Accidents Act are ‘incompatible’ with her human rights.

The woman, who gave birth to her partner’s son two months after he died, had no right to damages under the Act because her relationship with the deceased had not been subsisting for two years prior to his death.

The couple were living together and had been in a relationship for 18 months before the fatal accident and the woman’s lawyers are arguing at the High Court that her case reveals a glaring anomaly in the law.

The Act provides that a stable relationship, subsisting for at least two years, is required to found a dependency claim by a deceased person’s partner. However, the woman’s lawyers are seeking a declaration that that requirement is incompatible with her right to respect for family life, enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Her counsel argued that, although the Act may have been in tune with prevailing domestic habits at the time it became law, it does not reflect the growing popularity of partners co-habiting.

Applying the terms of the Act to the woman’s case has had the harsh result of denying her and her children compensation for bereavement and their loss of dependency on the deceased, the barrister argued. If this argument is successful, it will open the way for the bereaved partners to make claims under the Act in the future.

The Secretary of State for Justice is defending the case.