A WOMAN has won her landmark battle for greater legal recognition for unmarried couples who suffer bereavement.

Jakki Smith, who lost her partner of 16 years in October 2011, argued that her inability to claim bereavement damages was a breach of her human rights.

The 59-year-old NHS worker from Chorley discovered she was not entitled to the sum of £11,800, which is paid out if a person dies as a result of negligence, but only to spouses or civil partners, after 66-year-old John Bulloch died after an infection was missed.

Mr Bulloch, a former prison governor, underwent the removal of a benign tumour on his right foot in August 2011 and fell ill while on holiday in Turkey.

On Tuesday, the Court of Appeal allowed her challenge against a High Court ruling dismissing her claim.

The Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, Lord Justice McCombe and Sir Patrick Elias set aside a ruling by Mr Justice Edis last year that there was no incompatibility between the 1976 Fatal Accidents Act and Ms Smith's Convention rights.

Mr Justice Edis said he had no power to intervene - although he added that the current law was in need of reform.

Zak Golombeck, of law firm Slater and Gordon, who represented Ms Smith, said: "This is an historic decision, and one that is long overdue.

"The Law Commission has previously recommended that cohabiting couples should be eligible for bereavement damages.

"Significantly, the Government also produced a draft Bill in 2009, although it was never progressed.

"The way we live is changing. Couples are choosing not to marry but this does not detract from the bond they have.

"My client had been with her partner, John, for 16 years and they were totally committed to each other.

"The Court of Appeal have made clear in their judgment that Jakki and John's relationship was equal in every respect to a marriage in terms of love, loyalty and commitment.

"We hope that Parliament will now rectify the incompatibility and bring this legislation into the 21st century. "

Ms Smith, who was not in court, said she was "over the moon" with the decision.

She said: "Until John died I hadn't realised that our relationship would be treated any differently and when I did it just struck me as hurtful and unfair that it could be considered less meaningful because of that.

"John and I had planned a life together, we were in it for the long run and the fact that our bond wasn't recognised, simply because we hadn't chosen to marry, was very upsetting.

"That's why I'm over the moon with the court's decision and I hope that the change in law will have a positive impact on other people who, for whatever reason, choose not to marry."

In the claim against the Secretary of State for Justice, Ms Smith's lawyers argued the current legislation was in breach of articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights in that it discriminated against her on the grounds of her non-marital status and her right to respect for family life.

Vikramm Sachdeva QC said it was implicitly conceded that there was no lawful justification for withholding bereavement damages from people who had lived with their partners for at least two years.

Ms Smith said: "If you are living together the Government classes you as a couple for the purpose of payments like council tax and Jobseeker's Allowance, so why not when it comes to this?

"There's no longer a taboo around being unmarried; attitudes have changed, society has moved on and the law needs to be changed to reflect that.

"For me it's the principle and as marriage rates fall year on year it's for those people who find themselves in this position.

"Nothing will bring John back, but he was a firm believer in everyone being treated equally and I think he would have agreed with me that this is worth fighting for.

"Just because John and I hadn't said vows to each other and didn't wear wedding rings didn't mean we weren't completely committed to each other.

"My fight has never been for the money, it's about having meaningful relationships recognised.

"This result won't make any difference to me - I won't get a penny from it as you can't get a retrospective payment.

"I just hope what has happened helps other people who may find themselves in this tragic situation."