The Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) yesterday ruled that a Barbadian woman should be considered the spouse of her late partner as well as have the right to inherit from him on his death.
The CCJ, the island’s highest court, said that Katrina Smith should be considered the spouse of her late partner, Albert Michael Selby, and that under Barbados’s Succession Act, the definition of spouse, “is a single woman who has cohabited for the statutory period of five years immediately preceding the death of her cohabitant partner (and) has the right to inherit from him on his death”.
The matter, which was filed at the CCJ in March, centred on the interpretation of the Act which states that reference to a ‘spouse’ includes “a single woman who was living together with a single man as his wife for a period of not less than five years immediately preceding the date of his death”.
The CCJ examined the legislative regime that existed prior to the Act and noted that prior to its enactment, the law excluded the survivor of a cohabitational relationship from benefiting on the death of the partner who had not left a will.
Smith and Selby had been living together since 2002 until his death in 2008. Sealy had no children, was predeceased by his parents, and is survived by his siblings including the respondent, Albert Anthony Sealy.
The court concluded that the natural and ordinary meaning of the words in the Act, and a review of the Act together with its social and historical context, is that a single woman who has cohabited for the statutory period of five years immediately preceding the death of her cohabitant partner has the right to inherit from him on his death, provided he is a single man.
In making its decision, the CCJ set aside the earlier decision of the Barbados Court of Appeal and all orders for costs from the courts below.
The court declared that Katrina Smith was the spouse of the deceased and ordered Anthony Selby to pay costs in the sum of BD$20,000 (US$10,000).
Meanwhile, the CCJ has expressed concern over what it said appears to be the practice in Barbados for matters to be stayed pending the outcome of interlocutory appeals, without a formal court order.
The court dissuaded the use of this practice except in circumstances where it was necessary after a full consideration of the relevant factors.
It noted that the nine years which elapsed since the death of Selby was inconsistent with the overriding objective to resolve disputes justly and expeditiously.
The CCJ ruled that such delay inevitably caused distress as no one had been appointed to administer Selby’s estate and, as a result, it sought to give a ruling as expeditiously as possible, taking into consideration the matter having been filed in March this year.