Major overhaul of death and funeral laws recommended by Law Commission
Death is being hauled into the 21st century with sweeping reforms to burial and cremation laws recommended by the Law Commission.
It released its 252-page report Death, Burial and Cremation - a new law for contemporary New Zealand this week, which found the Burial and Cremation Act 1964 should be ditched for new statutes.
It made 127 recommendations for change.
The review, requested by the Government in 2010, focused on four areas – death certification, cemeteries and crematoria, the funeral sector and burial decisions
– and found the act had "not aged well".
"Our law relating to certification of death and disposal of bodies is old, out of date and fractured," commission president Sir Grant Hammond said in the report.
"It has been in need of fundamental revision and law reform for many years now. Most, but not all, of the law is in a 50-year-old act – the Burial and Cremation Act 1964 – which itself rests on old antecedents."
Some issues included grappling with changing concepts of when someone was legally dead, outmoded systems for recording deaths, changed ways of dealing with bodies, increased demand for alternatives to traditional funerals, problems with burial grounds, and rightful claims by Maori and other ethnicities to have cultural and spiritual concerns considered, he said.
The report had been tabled in Parliament for ministers to consider developing new legislation, which would impact on the deaths of about 30,000 people in New Zealand a year.
Key recommendations included:
- Replace 1964 Burial and Cremation Act with new statutes for burial, cremation and funerals.
- Register funeral directors.
- Funeral directors must publish price lists of goods and services.
- Appoint "deceased's representatives" to make decisions about funerals and dealing with bodies.
- Private individuals or entities can apply to establish new cemeteries.
- Appoint "cause of death reviewers" to review some deaths, detect errors in determining cause of death and educate doctors certifying death.
- Less red tape for approving new crematoria and outdoor cremations.
- Allow some nurses to certify death in some situations.
- Recognise Tikanga Maori for practices and decisions about death.
- Resolve burial disputes in Family Court or Maori Land Court, not just the High Court.
- A new online process for death certification.
- Policies developed for cemeteries, including minimum standards for maintenance.