The High Court ruled today that the government’s treatment of widowers in relation to pension payments was ‘objectively justified’.
The BMA were fighting public sector pension rules which mean that the widowers of female GPs receive a smaller pension than the widows of male GPs.
If the case had been won, the outcome would have affected all public sector pensions. The government estimated that the cost to the public purse could have exceeded £4bn.
The case was brought by Iain Cockburn, the widower of Warwickshire GP Dr Clare Boothroyd who died after suffering from cancer in February 2007.
Current pension legislations mean that service prior to 5 April 1988 is not counted when widowers’ pensions are calculated. This meant that Mr Cockburn received £3,200 a year less than the widow of a male NHS Pension Scheme member.
Mr Cockburn’s case was funded and supported by the BMA.
At the hearing lawyers for Mr Cockburn argued that paying the widower of a female doctor a lower pension than a widow amounted to unlawful discrimination that was ‘blatant’ and ‘as direct as it gets’.
The DoH accepted that its actions were discriminatory but it argued the discrimination was justified on the grounds that it was introduced to correct 'factual inequalities' that once existed between men and women in the workplace.
In his judgement, Mr Justice Supperstone ruled in favour of the DoH.
He said: ‘in my view the absence of the non-dependant widower’s pension prior to the 1989 regulations was objectively justified.
‘There is no evidence that overall female members in the scheme were in any different position to that of women in society and in the workforce as a whole.’
Alex Fox, one of the solicitors representing the BMA, said: ‘We are naturally disappointed with the result.’
‘If the government is allowed to continue this discriminatory practice, defending it on grounds of cost, it will totally undermine the laudable aim of achieving equality in the workplace. We and our client are considering an appeal.’
BMA chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum 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.'