The Law Commission is undertaking a first principles review of the Burial and Cremation Act 1964. The Act’s primary purpose is to ensure provision is made for the burial of the dead in a controlled and respectful manner which meets public expectations. The Act also contains the legal provisions governing death certification. Apart from a number of small amendments, the Act is substantially unchanged since its enactment nearly half a century ago.
The terms of reference for the review (which can be found here) are very broad. As well as assessing whether the Act remains fit for purpose, we have also been asked to consider whether, and to what extent, the law should:
- protect the diverse cultural and spiritual needs of individuals and groups with respect to burial and cremation;
- protect land used for human burial, ensuring it is adequately maintained and our cultural heritage preserved;
- provide better guidance and assistance to the bereaved when decision-making at the time of death gives rise to serious disagreements; and
- whether the is a case for stronger consumer protections with respect to the funeral and cremation sector.
Our terms of reference also require us to assess the adequacy of the medical certification processes which are required by law before a body may be buried or cremated. In May 2011, we published an Issues Paper on this discrete topic titled Final Words: Death and Cremation certification in New Zealand (NZLC IP23, 2011). We received 44 submissions (available here) on that Paper.
In October 2013, we published the second Issues Paper titled The Legal Framework For Burial and Cremation in New Zealand: A First Principles Review (NZLC IP34, 2013). This second Paper brings together over two years of research and preliminary consultation with the Ministry of Health (which administers the Act), local authorities, the cemetery and funeral sector, experts in Māori customary law and representatives of various ethnic communities. The reform options proposed in the Paper touch on every stage of the decision-making process from the time of death to management of historic cemeteries. The deadline for submissions on that Paper was Monday, 20 January 2014.
A final report bringing together the policy proposals in both papers is expected by the end of 2014.
References to the review in the media
NZ Herald 'Time for Specsavers approach to funerals' 29 March 2014
Otago Daily Times 'Burial law changes cause for concern' 28 February 2014
Otago Daily Times 'The costly business of dying in the South' 9 January 2014
Stuff 'Review of 'dumb' burial law hailed' 5 October 2013
Stuff 'Long-overdue overhaul of burial law' 5 October 2013
Radio NZ 'Law Commission review of burial and cremation in NZ' 4 October 2013
NZ Herald 'Public opinion sought on proposed changes around funerals' 4 October 2013
Stuff 'Overhaul for burial laws sought' 4 October 2013
Sunday Star Times via Stuff 'Bid to fix death certificate laws' 23 October 2011
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Published 4 Oct 2013
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Is it possible for a person’s body to be buried on private land? Or for mourners to arrange the burial or cremation of a loved one without any professional assistance? Are all those providing funeral and cremation services accountable to a professional standards body?
Are families obliged to follow any instructions we might leave about what we wish to happen to our bodies after death? And what happens if a serious disagreement arises among the bereaved about the final arrangements?
Until faced with the task of arranging a burial or cremation, few of us are likely to be aware of the laws and regulations that control such matters as where, when, and how burials and cremations may take place; the legal responsibilities of those making decisions and arrangements on behalf of the deceased; and the responsibilities of those who establish and manage funeral homes, cemeteries and crematoria.
Our approach to death, the decisions we make and the options available to us are influenced by a mix of law, custom, belief and pragmatism. While these influences can lead to considerable diversity in how we respond to death, everyone’s decisions are constrained by the same legal parameters.
The Issues Paper, The Legal Framework for Burial and Cremation in New Zealand: A First Principles Review (NZLC IP34, 2013) is divided into four Parts, each of which focuses on different aspects of the review. The Law Commission held consultation meetings throughout the country to discuss the issues involved with the general public, and also accepted written submissions on the Issues Paper. The deadline for submissions was Monday, 20 January 2014.
Obtain a Hard CopyAvailable online only.Published 23 May 2011
Issues Paper “Final Words: Death and Cremation certification in New Zealand” (NZLC IP23, 2011) released for public consultation today.
Before a body can be buried or cremated in New Zealand the person responsible for these final arrangements must first obtain either a doctor’s medical certificate outlining the cause of death or a coroner’s authorisation. This legal requirement serves two important public interests:
• It provides a safeguard against the disposal of bodies in circumstances where the death may have been preventable or may have arisen as a result of some wrongful or negligent act or omission, and
• where the death was natural, it provides vital public and private health information regarding the actual cause of death.
This paper looks at the strengths and weaknesses of our current systems of death and cremation certification with a particular focus on how well the system is identifying deaths which are reportable to the Coroner.
The paper forms a specialist part of the Law Commission’s first principles review of the Burial and Cremations Act 1964. A second Issues Paper focused on the broader public policy issues relating to burial and cremation is due for publication early in 2012.
This initial paper on death and cremation certification contains a number of specific questions relating to the current system and possible options for reform. We welcome comments and submissions on these questions or any other related matters.
Submissions closed on Saturday July 30 2011. Download submissions
NB: The paper is available in electronic format only
- Published 4 Oct 2013
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.