Siobhan McLaughlin - Statement from Martin Hanna

Martin Hanna

30 August 2018


Today is another historic day in the long history of Francis Hanna & Company Solicitors. Earlier today, the Supreme Court handed down its judgment in the matter of an application by Siobhan McLaughlin for Judicial Review [2018] UKSC 48 which confirmed that our client, Siobhan McLaughlin has won her legal challenge on the entitlement of unmarried couples to Widowed Parent’s Allowance.

This is indeed another great day.  But allow me to look back for a moment.

Francis Hanna was my grandfather and our founder. He was a champion of the working man and fought tirelessly for workers’ rights back in days when workers had little or no rights at all. 

He was a brave solicitor who took up the plight of the working man which wasn’t easy back then with employers requiring their workforce to work in the most appalling of conditions without fear of redress. That was simply the norm back then. Just get on with your work and be thankful to have a job was the mantra from above. 

He forged great alliances and associations with the trade union world and together they fought for working men to have the most basic of rights in the workplace, rights that for us today are regarded as normal. 

He brought cases to the House of Lords (the then highest court in the land) and managed to change the law enabling victims of industrial injuries such as deafness and asbestos diseases to bring claims against their employers who required them to work in these awful conditions.  He was in every sense a trail blazer for all of us who have followed in his footsteps.  For me, he was and is my hero and someone whose example has guided me throughout my own career. 

Today, decades later, we have yet another brave solicitor, another trail blazer in Laura Banks who sought to change the law one more time in the long history of this Practice.  This time it was for the rights of children who, because their parents were not married at the time of their father’s death, were deprived of benefits up until adulthood.   

Laura has fought tirelessly for Siobhan McLaughlin and her children since the day that she walked into the Citizens Advice where Laura was working at the time.  She didn’t just stumble upon the case, she was actively seeking it out as she was aware that such benefit was not available to children in these tragic circumstances. Since then she has been in every court in Northern Ireland fighting the case for Siobhan and last April she went to the Supreme Court to try and change the law not only for Siobhan and her children but also for many thousands of children and families throughout Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.   

Now the Supreme Court has ruled that Widowed Parent’s Allowance "exists because of the responsibilities of the deceased and the survivor towards their children. Those responsibilities are the same whether or not they are married or in a civil partnership with one another”.

The Supreme Court added that “the purpose of the allowance is to diminish the financial loss caused to families with children by the death of a parent. That loss is the same whether or not the parents are married or in a civil partnership."

The Court has made a declaration that Section 39 (A) of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits (Northern Ireland) Act 1992 is incompatible with article 14 of the ECHR, read with article 8, insofar as it precludes any entitlement to Widowed Parents Allowance by a surviving unmarried partner of the deceased.

This landmark ruling is likely to affect thousands of bereaved families across the UK.

We are particularly proud of this result and of Siobhan and her family’s resolve to take this case all the way to the Supreme Court.  Both Siobhan and Laura simply refused to give up.   Why would they have?  They believed, as did all of the lawyers involved on behalf of Siobhan, that the law was simply wrong and unfair and needed to be changed.  I commend the Supreme Court and all of the Judges who carefully considered the case for their excellent judgment.  

So, on behalf of the partners and staff of Francis Hanna & Company today and also on behalf of those trail blazers who are no longer with us who made huge differences during their time with the firm, I want to congratulate Laura and Siobhan and the entire legal team for their monumental effort from start to finish.  We are all incredibly proud of them today.  Between them, they have managed to effectively change the law and make a remarkable difference which should pave the way for many hundreds of bereaved families to finally get the redress that they have been denied.  

Martin Hanna, Senior Partner

Francis Hanna & Co