Gay man denied next-of-kin rights after partner’s death loses legal battle


Tasmania Ben Jago discrimination case
Photo: Supplied

Gay Tasmanian man Ben Jago, who was wrongly denied next-of-kin status by the Coroner after the death of his same-sex partner, has lost a Tasmanian Supreme Court case.

Ben Jago’s partner of five years, Nathan Lunson, died by suicide in January 2015. After his partner’s death, police and the state’s Coroner failed to recognise Jago as his deceased partner’s next of kin.

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This was despite the two men being legal senior next-of-kin under Tasmanian law. The Coroner misapplied the law and instead recognised Lunson’s estranged mother as his next-of-kin.

The grieving man was refused access to his partner’s body and was initially barred from attending the funeral.

A year later, the Coronial Division wrote to Jago and acknowledged the couple shared a significant relationship under state law.

Jago subsequently lodged a discrimination complaint. However it was rejected on the basis the Coroner is immune from such complaints.

He then took the case to the Supreme Court. On Wednesday Supreme Court judge Helen Wood upheld the Coroner’s immunity and ruled Jago couldn’t bring the case.

Ben Jago wants guarantee the situation won’t happen again

The ruling means Ben Jago can’t seek an apology, compensation or guarantee reform to stop the same thing happening to another same-sex couple.

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

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

Jago said he won’t appeal the Supreme Court’s decision due to the costs involved. However he’s vowed he “won’t stop until I can be absolutely certain this doesn’t happen again.”

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

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

Tasmania LGBTIQ community ‘stands with Ben’

Equality Tasmania spokesperson Rodney Croome said the state’s LGBTIQ community stands with Ben Jago.

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“I’m appalled by the Supreme Court decision,” Croome said.

“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.”

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

“We want [Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein] to follow that precedent and ensure justice for Ben Jago.”

Croome said the same situation had also occurred in Tasmania at least once previously. But subsequent education and policy reform clearly hadn’t worked.

Ben Jago’s solicitor Benedict Bartl called for the state government to “amend the Coroner’s Act so this doesn’t happen again.”

Community members are holding a protest rally to show solidarity with Ben Jago.

They’re planning the rally for 1pm on Friday (March 19) at the Coroners Office outside the Magistrates Court in Hobart.

If you need someone to talk to, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

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