Six years after the death of his partner Nathan Lunson, Tasmanian resident Ben Jago is still waiting for justice and to be recognised as the next of kin

Ben Jago’s appeal seeking that the immunity from the anti-discrimination law to the Tasmanian Coroner’s Office, which had not granted him next of kin recognition, be taken away is pending in the Supreme Court of Tasmania. The Supreme Court of Tasmania last heard Ben’s case almost two years ago, but is yet to deliver a verdict, and this has frustrated him and his lawyers. 

“It has been over six years. I want the decision to be handed down so that I can get on with the case. It is basically delaying and holding everything up,” Ben told Star Observer.

The Fight To Be Treated Equal

The past six years have been a difficult one for Ben,”not being able to say goodbye to my partner, not being able to give him the burial, and the funeral that he wanted.”

The fight is not just personal for Ben, as he said his struggle is also for other couples like him and Nathan.

“The case has implications not only for my own situation but also for other people who are in a de-facto relationship. (The outcome of the case would) make a significant difference because if the same thing happened to them, they’d be in a limbo, they’d be in my situation,” said Ben. 

According to Equality Tasmania spokesperson Rodney Croome, Ben’s case highlights how the system failed a young gay couple and it was important that this did not happen to others.

“The Tasmanian authorities have let this young man down at every point. They failed to recognise him as his late partners’ next-of-kin despite the law saying he was, they failed to hear his case when he took a discrimination complaint, they failed to deliver a timely judgement when he appealed to our highest court. The injustices keep building up,” said Croome in a statement. 

Ben and Nathan met in 2009

Nathan Lunson and Ben Jago

Nathan Lunson and Ben Jago met in 2009 and were together for six years.

Ben who was living in Hobart and Nathan from Ulverstone had first met on Facebook in 2009. They moved in together after a few months and lived together for around six years. They had plans to get married in New Zealand, which had legalised same sex marriages in 2013. Australia would legalise same sex marriages only after a National vote in 2017.

In January 2015, Nathan died by suicide and the last time Ben saw him was when the police took away his body. As the couple had not registered their relationship, the coroner’s office failed to recognise Ben as the next of kin. 

This was despite the fact they were in a de-facto-style “significant relationship” under Tasmanian law which gave them equal next-of-kin rights. This failure of the Coroner’s Office to grasp that same-sex couples have equal rights had occured previously. In that case the bereaved partner reached a conciliated resolution in the Anti-Discrimiantion Commission. The resolution was that the Coroner’s Office would conduct staff training in LGBTIQ+ issues including the law. Clearly, that didn’t work,” Ben’s lawyer Benedict Bartl, a solicitor with Hobart Community Legal Service said in an email. 

‘Discriminated Because Of Sexual Orientation’

Ben Jago

Ben Jago

Ben Jago’s case was that the Tasmania Police and the Coroner’s Office had discriminated against him on the basis of his sexual orientation. In June 2015, he filed a discrimination complaint against the coroner’s office. 

In 2018, the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal said that it did not have the jurisdiction to hear the case as under the state law the coroner’s office has immunity from legal proceedings. 

Ben Jago filed a notice of appeal before the Supreme Court of Tasmania in November 2018 and final submissions were filed in May 2019. There has been no progress in the case since then due to the backlog of cases, which have increased in the past one year due to the COVID-19 restrictions, according to Ben’s lawyer. 

Equality Tasmania has asked the state to look into the case so that other couples in a same-sex relationship do no have to go through what Ben was subjected to.

“We call on the State Government to conduct a review of Ben Jago’s case, take responsibility for its repeated failures, offer him an apology and make sure this doesn’t happen again,” said Croome. 

If you feel distressed reading the story, you can reach out to support services.

For 24 hour crisis support and suicide prevention call Lifeline on 13 11 14

For Australia-wide LGBTQI peer support call QLife on 1800 184 527 or webchat.

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