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Justice, death and geography

In this article, Diane Parker, partner and head of personal injury takes a look at the way bereavement damages are handled in different parts of the UK.

“I have written previously about the illogicality of our justice system whereby it is better to kill someone than injure them as to do so is likely to be a lot cheaper given that the government fixes the level of damages that can be recovered and by whom in the event of a death occurring through the negligence of another.

However, a recent revision to the law in Northern Ireland, which currently doesn’t have a functioning government and hasn’t done for over 2 years, has thrown up even more absurdity to tragic circumstances.

If you’re going to be killed, then geography matters. In England and Wales, the husband or wife of the deceased can claim £12,980. Parents of children under 18 who are killed can also claim.

However, if you live in Northern Ireland you can claim £15,000. Is their loss any greater? Are they more deserving than English and Welsh claimants?

Being killed in Scotland is better again. Here, there is no fixed sum, instead the court looks at the survivors and assesses how much compensation each should receive depending on their relationship with the victim. And note I said ‘survivors’. Unlike the other jurisdictions, Scottish law has the flexibility to understand that people and the relationships they form are different.

Currently, if a 19-year-old, still living at home with mum and dad, still very much ‘their boy’ is killed through the negligence of another the level of recoverable damages is likely to be very low indeed.

In Scotland, the death of the same 19-year-old might result in compensation awards being made to his mum and dad, but perhaps also to his grandad, who had been living with the family for a number of years, his younger sisters and even his girlfriend. And unlike in England and Wales, where a single payment would be split between eligible recipients, each of the affected in Scotland would be looked at individually. A much fairer system all round, as that way everyone’s role in the deceased’s life is understood and acknowledged.

So, will there be a law change soon?

It seems unlikely. Unless a prominent politician has the misfortune to lose someone close and appreciates just how unfair the system is things are unlikely to change.”