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BMA Loses High Court Battle

04 August 2011

The BMA has lost its High Court case in relation to the NHS Scheme and its claim for equal rights for widows. (See October 2010 News Item)

Under the NHS Pension Scheme rules service accrued by female employees prior to 6 April 1988 does not count towards the pension entitlements of their widowers. However widows' pensions are based on the full pensionable service record of their husbands.

The BMA's legal team brought the case on behalf of Mr Iain Cockburn, the widower of Dr Clare Cockburn. Dr Cockburn had joined the NHS pensions scheme in 1982. When she passed away in 2007 Mr Cockburn received a widower's pension but the BMA's legal team say that a woman in the same position would have received a much higher amount and this amounted to sex discrimination. The difference worked out as an extra £3,200 a year.

The Department of Health conceded that its actions were discriminatory. However it stated that the discrimination was justified on the grounds that it was introduced to correct "factual inequalities" that existed between male and female staff.

The judgment handed down by Justice Supperstone at the Royal Courts of Justice ruled that the preferential treatment of widows over widowers in relation to pension payments was "objectively and reasonably justified".

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of council at the BMA, said: "It's unfair that female members of the NHS pension scheme do not have the same rights as men. We're disappointed that this sexual discrimination couldn't be stopped in the High Court, but we will continue to highlight it and to fight for fair pensions for all doctors."

The BMA is considering whether to appeal the decision.

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