Long-term partner loses battle for war pension

Mike Taylor,Press Association
Tuesday 03 February 2009 16:20 GMT

The long-term unmarried partner of a retired Royal Navy officer who died five years ago from a job-related illness has failed in her legal battle for the right to receive a widow's war pension.

Barbara Ratcliffe, 63, of Hitchin, Herts, told the courts of their "unbroken and true partnership" and how their family and friends treated them as though they were married.

And she said they would have got married before he died but for the fact that the Government's Veterans Agency took so long to spell out her legal status that she did not become aware of it until some time after her partner's funeral.

In a legal test case against the Ministry of Defence, Ms Ratcliffe's lawyers argued that she and other unmarried partners of ex-servicemen who died before April 2005 - when partners became officially recognised as equal in status to wives - were being unlawfully discriminated against under the Human Rights Act.

But the Court of Appeal ruled today that the official distinction between married and unmarried partners before that date was legally justified, as was the decision not to make the new law retrospective.

That sort of decision was for government to make and was "a decision with which the courts will not normally interfere", said Lord Justice Hooper, sitting with Lords Justices Wall and Ward.

Since the legal battle started, Ms Ratcliffe has been awarded a "discretionary" occupational pension of almost £19,000 a year.

But the test case continued in an attempt to establish that she and others like her were entitled to a war pension - in her case, around £5,600 a year.

The court heard that Ms Ratcliffe met a naval officer - referred to only as Lieutenant Commander K - in 1976 and, from 1985 onwards, their relationship was "unbroken" until he died, aged 67, in January 2004 of asbestos-related cancer contracted while he was on active service.

Lt Cdr K joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16 and served from May 1952 to July 1988. He and Ms Ratcliffe, who nursed him through his fatal illness, had no children.

Following his death, the MoD said she would only qualify for a pension if she was his spouse, or had been his partner for at least six months before he joined the Navy in 1952, or was the mother of his dependent child or children.

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