Move to license funeral directors

Funeral directors should be licensed and provide a comprehensive breakdown of costs to give consumers added protection against unscrupulous practitioners, says the Law Commission.

The commission held a public meeting at the Cardboard Cathedral yesterday seeking feedback on a package of reforms for burial and cremation laws. It wants to update the Burials and Cremation Act of 1964.

Commissioner Wayne Mapp said the act was outdated.

Among the discussion points was that all funeral directors should be licensed and give consumers a complete breakdown of funeral costs that may incur. These ranged from purchasing a casket to arranging transport and catering.

Senior researcher and policy adviser Cate Brett said the present law was a "very light-handed regulatory environment".

There was no auditing of crematoria to make sure the correct ashes were returned or the right person was cremated.

There was a self-regulated funeral director body, but only 60 per cent of operators belonged to it.

Cremation Society of Canterbury general manager Barbara Terry said there were also issues relating to families who wanted to bypass a funeral director and go "DIY".

She had 10 calls a week from people wanting to do their own organising and even had one who called up wanting to drop his mother off in a sleeping bag before "popping" her in the crematorium.

"Who is setting the standards ensuring there is dignity in death?" she said. There needed to be more guidance for families on the issue and what it entailed.

Mapp said the review also sought to make it clearer who had authority over burial decisions once a person died.

Lawyer Grant Knight, who acted for the wife of James Takamore in a dispute about family decision on burial rights, said he welcomed stricter and clearer legislation about who had control in the event of a family argument.

He also said there needed to be a "rapid response system" for events that arose when a body was "spirited away" by family members. He wanted police to be able to take legal control of the body until the situation could be worked out.

Mapp said the public was invited to make submissions on the review until December 20. The commission would submit its final report to the Minister of Justice next year.

The Press