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03 FEB 2009

PENSIONS: Ratcliffe v Secretary of State for Defence [2009] EWCA Civ 39

(Court of Appeal; Ward, Wall and Hooper LJJ; 3 February 2009)

The woman had cohabited for over 25 years with the deceased serviceman and had cared for him during his long illness, which had been caused by his exposure to asbestos during service with the Royal Navy, until he died. Because the couple had not been married, the woman was not entitled to a war pension other than in exceptional circumstances. Subsequent legislation, which did not apply in this case, made provision for war pensions to be paid to unmarried partners. The woman argued that the decision to refuse her a war pension was a breach of her human rights, in that it was discrimination against her on the basis of her unmarried status, in breach of Art 14.

The appeal was dismissed. Although married and unmarried couples were in an analogous position for the purposes of Art 14, there was a historic justification for making the distinction. The decision as from what point in time unmarried partners were put in an analogous position to spouses in the field of pensions was a decision for the government and was not one with which the courts would normally interfere.

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