Landmark bereavement benefits case to be heard by the Supreme Court in historic sitting in Belfast

 Laura Banks

01 December 2017


A County Antrim mother of four has been given permission by the Supreme Court to appeal a decision made by the Court of Appeal in 2016 relating to her entitlement to bereavement benefits. 

Siobhan McLaughlin lived with her partner John Adams for over 23 years until his death on 28th January 2014. Ms McLaughlin and Mr Adams were unmarried, and their four children were aged 19, 17, 13 and 11 years at the date of his death.  After Mr Adams’ death, Ms McLaughlin was devastated to discover that her children would lose out on tens of thousands of pounds in benefits, as the couple were not married. 

Ms McLaughlin challenged this decision and whilst successful in the High Court, last year the Court of Appeal overturned the ruling that she was discriminated against on the grounds of her marital status.

Mrs McLaughlin is now attempting to challenge their findings at the Supreme Court and we are delighted to be representing her in this matter.

This important case will be heard by the Supreme Court in April 2018, sitting in Belfast for the first time in history.  The Court will sit in the Inns of Court Library at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast, where Supreme Court President Lady Hale will be joined by Deputy President Lord Mance, Lord Kerr (former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland), Lord Hodge and Lady Black for a two-day hearing, commencing on Monday 30 April 2018.  The Supreme Court will stay a further 2 days to hear the case of Gareth Lee v Ashers.

Announcing the visit, Lady Hale said: "I am delighted that the Supreme Court will be sitting in Belfast in 2018. As the final Court of Appeal for the United Kingdom, we hear cases of profound importance to everyone in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  My colleagues and I strongly believe that the experience of watching a case in person should not be limited to those within easy reach of London. This is the second time that the Court has sat outside London and doing so is becoming an established feature of the Court's calendar.”

Lady Hale added: "Whilst in Belfast we shall hear two significant appeals from the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland.  This will be a fantastic opportunity for local people to see the Court in action on their doorstep. The Supreme Court is committed to being one of the most open and accessible in the world and, like all our hearings, our Belfast cases will be live streamed via our website for everyone who cannot get to see us in person."

Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland Sir Declan Morgan said: "I believe it is important for people in this jurisdiction to have the opportunity to see the work of the Court at first hand, which can only help to enhance public confidence in the administration of justice."

If Ms McLaughlin’s case is successful, the criteria for bereavement benefits should be opened up to families of cohabiting parents throughout Northern Ireland and the UK. With an estimated 2,000 families per year being turned down for support on the basis of marital status, the judgment could be extremely significant in alleviating hardship for bereaved families.