Fatal Accident requirement of two years cohabitation is lawful
Mr Justice Eady in the High Court has ruled on a claim brought by the partner of a man who died at work. Alan Winters’ employer had already accepted responsibility for his death and compensation had been paid out to the son which Mr Winters had with the claimant, Mrs Swift. However, the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 states that in order for a cohabitant to make a claim, they must have lived with the deceased ‘as husband and wife’ for two years or more.
Mrs Swift took an action claiming that the provision for two years cohabitation amounted to discrimination under the European Convention on Human Rights.
In dismissing the claim, Mr Justice Eady said that the law envisaged protection for “such relationships as involved a sufficient degree of permanence or dependence to justify the survivor’s right to claim damages against the tortfeasor”.
He continued “I do not see that this can be characterised as irrational or, in so far as there is any difference, ‘manifestly without reasonable foundation’. Nor yet can it be said that the two year period is disproportionate to this aim. Indeed, no suggestion has been made to the contrary. To draw a line anywhere is in a sense arbitrary, but there is no substitute for the making of a legislative judgment, since it is necessary to take account of the need for the law to be as clear and predictable in its operation as possible. An alternative would be to leave it to some representative of the state, judicial or otherwise, to make an individual decision in each case. That would surely be open even more to the objection of arbitrariness.”
“This is why, no doubt, it has never been suggested by the Law Commission or by those responsible for the draft bill that the two year requirement should be dispensed with.
“It is obvious, in cases where parliament chooses to draw a line, that hard cases will fall on the wrong side of it, but that will not invalidate the rule if, judged in the round, it is beneficial.”