Court denies Hobart man the chance to be recognised as his late partner’s next-of-kin

A Hobart man who was wrongly denied senior next-of-kin status by the Coroner after the death of his same-gender partner six years ago has been told by the Tasmanian Supreme Court that he cannot progress a discrimination case seeking redress.

Justice Helen Wood has handed down a ruling that the Coroner is immune from discrimination complaints, effectively barring Ben Jago from seeking an apology, restitution and reform through the Tasmanian legal system.

Jago’s partner of five years, Nathan Lunson, died suddenly in January 2015. Despite the two men being legal senior next-of-kin under Tasmanian law, the Coroner misapplied the law and recognised Nathan’s estranged mother as his senior next-of-kin.

Jago took a discrimination complaint which was turned down by the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal on the basis that the Coroner is immune from such complaints. He then appealed that decision to the Supreme Court in 2019.

Mr Jago said the decision handed down by the Tasmanian Supreme Court was morally wrong.

“It was legally wrong and deeply unjust for the Coroner to deny me the right to be Nathan’s senior next-of-kin.

“I was unable to see his body, initially barred from his funeral, and given no say over his place of rest.

“Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, I won’t stop until I can be absolutely certain this doesn’t happen again.

Despite the major legal setback, Jago said he would fight on.

“I will seek an urgent meeting with the State Government seeking an apology, restitution for the trauma I have endured and legislative reform.

“I want to make sure the Coroner never again puts anyone through what I went through.”

Equality Tasmania spokesperson, Rodney Croome, said the Tasmanian LGBTIQ community stands with Ben Jago and will support him in pressing for redress and reform.

“I’m appalled by the Supreme Court decision because it effectively means the Coroner can ignore both the state Relationships Act, that says same-sex partners have equal rights, and the state Anti-Discrimination Act, which says LGBTIQ people should not face disadvantageous treatment.” Croome said.

“When a bereaved same-sex partner was denied senior next-of-kin status in South Australia in 2016, the then state Premier, Jay Weatherill, acted immedicately to rectify the situation.”

“We want Mr Gutwein to follow that precedent and ensure justice for Ben Jago.”

Ben Jago’s case is the second example of the Tasmanian Coroner ignoring the legally-entrenched senior next-of-kin status of a bereaved same-sex partner.

The first case resulted in an order that the Coroner’s Office undertake education and policy reform following a mediated outcome by the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, but Croome said that clearly didn’t work.

Ben Jago’s solicitor, Benedict Bartl, said Jago’s lawyers, including Ron Merkel QC, had put a strong case that the Coroner’s Office should not be immune from the Anti-Discrimination Act.

“Unfortunately, the Court did not accept our argument, so now it is time for this issue to go to Parliament and for the Coroner’s Act to be amended so this doesn’t happen again.”

“We will support Ben’s request to the Premier for an apology and restitution, as well as reform of the Coroner’s Act so there is a clear, non-discriminatory procedure for determining senior next-of-kin.”

“Ben has decided not to lodge an appeal against the ruling by Justice Wood because the risk of losing such an appeal and incurring costs is too great.”

A protest to show solidarity with Ben Jago will be held outside the Coroners Office at 1pm Friday, March 19th. The Coroners Office is in the Magistrates Court, 23-25 Liverpool Street, opposite the Royal Hobart Hospital.

OIP Staff


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