Court of Appeal gives judgment on polygamous marriages and bereavement benefits


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The Court of Appeal’s decision in Secretary of State for Work & Pensions v Akhtar [2021] EWCA Civ 1353 gives detailed guidance on the interplay between polygamous marriages and bereavement benefits under social security legislation.

The Court allowed the Secretary of State’s appeal, holding that the Respondent, Mrs Akhtar, the widow of a man who was still married under English law to another woman at the time of their marriage, was not entitled to bereavement benefits because their marriage was void under English law. That was the case even though she was his only surviving spouse at the time of his death. As a void marriage, it could not come within the scope of the Social Security (Family Allowances and Polygamous Marriages) Regulations 1975.

The Court further held that the 1975 Regulations did not breach Mrs Akhtar’s rights under Art 14 ECHR read with A1P1 in respect of Bereavement Payment. The declaration of incompatibility already made concerning Widowed Parent’s Allowance in McLaughlin [2018] UKSC 48 applied to that aspect of the appeal.

Zoe Leventhal acted for the Secretary of State, leading Jack Anderson from 39 Essex Chambers and Admas Habteslasie from Landmark Chambers.

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