Ruling on Fatal Accident Act and alleged incompatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights

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In this case Swift sought to argue that section 1(3)(b) of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 was inconsistent with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Swift had sadly lost her partner as a result of an accident at work. Her partner's late employers had admitted liability . She sought to bring a claim for dependency under section 1 of the Fatal Accidents Act but was prevented from doing so as they were not married at the time of the accident and had not cohabited for two years or more prior to his death.

The conditions in section 1(3)(b) were therefore not made out. In contrast Swift had had a child with her late partner who was able to claim as a dependant child.

The Court found that this section was not incompatible with the right to family life under the European Convention on Human Rights. The issue, as the Court saw it, was whether the United Kingdom could be said to be under an obligation to extend the range of  people  who could claim for dependency.   In order to be successful Swift had to show that there was a direct and immediate link between section 1(3)(b) and private/ family life.

The Court held that her broad submission that the issue of financial dependency was connected with family life was insufficient to establish her case. The fact that a claim under the Act may have improved the current family's finances did not bring itself within Article 8.  The objective of the act was to ensure that the scope of application was limited to such relationships as involved a sufficient degree of permanence of dependence to justify the survivors right to claim damages.  On this basis it could not be said that the two year period was disproportionate to that aim.    

Ruth Johnson

Solicitor - Personal Injury team

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