Chapter 11
Problems with the current legislative scheme for burial and cremation

Lack of recognition of diversity of needs

11.2Our terms of reference ask us explicitly to consider whether the Burial and Cremation Act 1964 (the Act) is meeting public expectations and needs in a number of ways, including:

11.3As mentioned previously, the main thrust of the burial provisions of the Act is that cemeteries should be provided by local government. This means that groups that wish to adopt particular burial customs or practices must work with local authorities to have those customs and practices accommodated.

11.4Everyone has a right to practise their faith and to enjoy their culture, profess and practise their religion and use the language of any ethnic, religious or linguistic minority they belong to.170 The Act only goes part way towards requiring local authorities to recognise those rights. For example, the Act provides that every cemetery shall be open for the interment of all deceased persons to be buried with such religious or other ceremony, or without any ceremony as the friends of the deceased think proper.171 It gives local authorities the power to set aside portions of a public cemetery for the exclusive use of religious denominational groups172 and provides that those religious groups may apply to the Minister for permission to establish their own cemeteries.173

11.5There are examples throughout New Zealand of local authorities responding pro-actively and positively to requests from different groups for accommodation of their beliefs and practices relating to burial, but the general picture is very inconsistent. Two positive examples were revealed in our consultation:

11.6However, the current statutory provisions are very limited:

11.7The Ministry of Health has only approved six new denominational burial grounds since 1995. This may indicate either that groups feel their needs can be accommodated adequately within existing public cemeteries or that the cost and complexity of establishing a denominational burial ground under the current provisions are simply too great for most religious groups to contemplate.

11.8We have concluded that, while some local authorities appear to be proactively accommodating requests to accommodate particular ethnic, cultural or other beliefs, the experience is patchy.

170New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, ss 15 and 20.
171Burial and Cremation Act, s 6.
172Sections 11 and 12.
173Section 31.
174Section 2 defines “religious denomination” as the adherents of any religion and includes any church, sect or other subdivision of such adherents.