Select Committee endorses Commission report on tūpāpaku

Publication Date 
27 November 2017

The Māori Affairs Select Committee has recommended that the Government consider implementing the Law Commission’s recommendations on death, burial and cremation.

The Select Committee inquired into whānau access to and management of tūpāpaku (bodies of the deceased). Its report considered whether any legislation or regulations need to change.

The Committee was responding to concerns of some whānau about their access to, and freedom to make decisions about, their tūpāpaku. The Committee heard of situations where whānau were not able to be with the tūpāpaku when Police referred a death to the coroner.

In New Zealand, an estimated 31,000 deaths occur each year, most of which are a result of natural causes. About 20 per cent of deaths go to the coroner for investigation.

In general, when a natural death occurs, a doctor will certify the death and the tūpāpaku will remain in the custody of the whānau. However, when a sudden or unexpected death occurs, or if a doctor is unable to establish the cause of death, Police must notify the coroner.

The Select Committee concluded that Police refer far more deaths than necessary to the coroner due to the attending doctor being unavailable or unable to certify a death.

The Select Committee endorsed all the recommendations made by the Law Commission in its report Death, Burial and Cremation: a new law for contemporary New Zealand, drawing particular attention to its recommendations about ways to improve the death certification process. The Law Commission’s 2015 report recommends establishing an online death certification process, and outlines new rules for disposing of a body once the cause of death has been certified.

Some other issues touched on in the Select Committee report – cultural concerns around the scattering of ashes and the need for transparency in funeral costings –were also ones that the Law Commission had considered or made recommendations about in its 2015 report.

On those matters the Law Commission suggested that local authorities should develop guidelines for the scattering of ashes in their respective regions; and recommended that funeral service providers should publish price lists of their goods and services and, if contracted to provide funeral services,  they should provide a full, itemised statement of all the costs of the funeral.

In response to the Law Commission report the Government has said it “agrees with a number of the Law Commission's recommendations but has identified the need for further policy work on other recommendations”. The Law Commission understands that work is continuing.