Reforms that would allow burials on private land and in native bush would free New Zealanders from a "dumb" law, Natural Burials founder Mark Blackham says.
A Law Commission review yesterday suggested opening up the cemetery sector to alternative providers, including allowing independent cemeteries and burials on private property.
The alternative providers include those wishing to set up eco or natural burial sites.
Local councils presently have the legal responsibility to provide cemeteries.
Other proposals include funeral firms having to disclose their qualifications and their prices - and a new regulation to clarify who makes decisions when a serious burial dispute arises in a family.
The commission's proposals would "free New Zealanders from the 50-year tyranny of a dull and dumb law", said Mr Blackham, whose organisation was set up in 1999 to advocate for natural cemeteries. It operates a natural cemetery at Makara in Wellington.
"Our supporters want to be buried naturally in areas that are, or will become, native bush."
Many councils resisted the idea because they incorrectly feared it would be too much trouble and costly, he said.
The commission said in its review the legal framework surrounding burials had become unnecessarily flexible and too narrowly focused on perceived public health risks. The law focused too much on the operational needs of providers rather than the needs of the community.
"In our view the current act places insufficient weight on the various human rights engaged at the time of death."
It proposed licensing all professional funeral services. There was no legal requirement to belong to a professional body, although most were appropriately qualified, the review said.
Funeral Directors Association of New Zealand vice-president Gavin Murphy said the organisation strongly supported the proposals.
Having qualifications available for the public to see made sense.
Firms already disclosed their prices, he said. The association encouraged all its members to be transparent in their pricing and give all families an estimate of costs before funerals were held.
"It's a competitive industry with good practitioners. The guys who offer a poor level of service, they don't really survive, and the concern is that it can take some time for them to exit the business, and they can do a lot of damage in that time."
Invercargill funeral celebrant Lynley McKerrow thought the review was timely.
Transparency around funeral directors' charges would be helpful as they varied.
The commission suggests that burial disputes should be heard in the Family Court, or Maori Land Court, rather than the High Court and those courts above it.
Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias said common law was "obscure" in the area and Justice Sir William Young agreed with her.
Wayne Mapp, lead commissioner for the review, said that when disputes arose, there needed to be "cheap and accessible" ways of breaking impasses.
The commission's review is open to public feedback until December 20.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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