Major Reforms Proposed For NZ’s Burial and Cremation Law
Hon Sir Grant Hammond KNZM
Major Reforms Proposed For New Zealand’s Burial and Cremation Law
The Law Commission is seeking the public’s views on a package of reforms which could lead to far-reaching changes in the options available to bereaved New Zealanders.
Among the major reforms for public debate are proposals to open the cemetery sector up to alternative providers, including those wishing to establish eco or natural burial sites, and allowing for New Zealanders to be buried on private land such as a family farm.
The Law Commission is also asking for public feedback on whether there is a case for stronger controls and accountabilities for the cremation and funeral sectors.
President Sir Grant Hammond said this is the first time the law which controls matters such as where and how burials take place and the responsibilities of those providing funeral and cremation services has been reviewed holistically.
“This is an incredibly important and sensitive area of our law which touches hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders every year as they confront the death of a family member, friend or colleague.
“It engages an unusually wide range of public interests, foremost among them being the need to respect the dignity of the deceased and to allow those left behind to farewell them in a manner consistent with their values, culture and beliefs.”
Apart from a number of small amendments, the Burial and Cremation Act has remained substantially unchanged since it was enacted in 1964. Many of the Act’s provisions have not been materially altered since New Zealand’s foundational burial law, the Cemeteries Act, was passed in 1882.
Dr Wayne Mapp, the lead Commissioner on the review, noted that as a society, New Zealand has undergone profound demographic and cultural change over the past 50 years:
“Our population is made up of over 200 different ethnic groups, our family structures are more complex and we are far more mobile than previous generations.
“All these factors influence our expectations about what happens at the time of death and it is important that the law reflects the principles and values we consider to be most important when grieving and commemorating the dead.
“ For example, the rules and customary practices which determine how the tupāpāku (the deceased) is cared for and where burial takes place reflect the fundamental principles, values and beliefs which underpin Māori culture – including, crucially, maintaining the relationships between the deceased, their descendants and the land.”
Sir Grant said a desire to reinforce connections to places and ancestors is a common impulse for many New Zealanders when dealing with the death of a loved one. In the Commission’s view, it is important that the law does not unreasonably restrict the ways in which people of different beliefs and cultures expressed these needs.
The Issues Paper, The Legal Framework for Burial and Cremation in New Zealand: A First Principles Review, brings together in one place a wealth of material on the different forces which have shaped New Zealand’s approach to death and the provision of places for burial and cremation.
It is divided into four Parts, each of which focuses on different aspects of the review:
• • Part 1 discusses the values and public interests which underpin the review and introduces some of the cultural and religious customs and practices which influence how different groups in New Zealand approach death;
• • Part 2 focuses on the Burial and Cremation Act 1964 and assesses how well it is meeting New Zealanders’ needs with respect to the provision of places for burial and cremation;
• • Part 3 focuses on the funeral services sector and examines the case for improving consumer protections; and
• • Part 4 focuses on the legal and customary frameworks within which decisions are made and disagreements resolved at the time of death. It asks whether there is a need to modernise the law and develop a more accessible mechanism for resolving difficult inter-cultural and inter-personal disputes which can arise among families at the time of death.
A stand-alone Summary is also available for download and is intended to be used as a public consultation document. It includes the key questions posed by the Commission in relation to the various options for reform contained in each Part of the Issues Paper.
Sir Grant said the Commission hoped New Zealanders from all walks of life will take this opportunity to make submissions on the paper and its reform proposals and thereby help inform the development of our laws in this important and sensitive area.
Submissions close on the 20th of December 2013 and can be made online at www.lawcom.govt.nz, emailed to email@example.com or posted to Burial Review, Law Commission, PO Box 2590, DX SP 23534, Wellington 6140.
The full Issues Paper, including a summary, can be found on the Commission’s website at http://www.lawcom.govt.nz/project/review-burial-and-cremation-act-1964/issues-paper/34 .