Chapter 14

Unlawful cremation or other disposal

14.2Currently, it is an offence under the Act to procure or take part in any cremation except in accordance with regulations made under the Act.258 The Regulations prohibit cremation elsewhere than in an approved crematorium, except with the permission of a medical officer of health.259

14.3We consider that this offence should be continued but modernised under the new statute. The cremation of bodies involves a number of risks, and so it is appropriate that cremation occurs in an environment that adequately controls those risks. The risks of cremation include:

14.4In addition, we are aware that a number of alternative methods of disposing of bodies by reducing them to an ash-like substance are being developed in other countries. These processes do not use fire so cannot be referred to as “cremation”. An example of this is alkaline hydrolysis. A new statute should be flexible enough to provide for any such alternative methods that may reach New Zealand in the future.

14.5Currently, it is the crematorium that must be approved. We propose that, instead, the new statute should require any cremation or other method of disposal in an approved cremator or approved other device. It is really the machine that is used for cremation that moderates most of the risks of cremation not the building within which it is housed. The statute should enable the term “approved cremator or other device” to be defined under regulations made under that statute. The use of regulations for this definition, rather than the statute, will enable new models of cremator to be approved as they come onto the market. In the future, it will also enable the department administering the Act to approve new methods of disposing of bodies.

14.6Consistent with our other proposals, we recommend that it should be for the local authority to give permission for outdoor cremation rather than the medical officer of health as it is currently. We discuss cremations other than in approved cremators below.

14.7It should be an offence to knowingly cremate a human body in any way other than in an approved cremator, subject to the exception in relation to outdoor cremation we discuss below. A person who breaches this offence should be liable upon conviction to a fine not exceeding $5,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding two years. This term of imprisonment is the same as that for the offence of misconduct in respect of human remains under section 150 of the Crimes Act 1961. We have also included a fine because the prospect of a fine may deter low-level offending of this type better than the possibility of a prison term, which will only be imposed for the worst type of offending.


R73 Unless the prior permission of the local authority is obtained, it should be an offence to knowingly cremate or otherwise dispose of a body except in an approved cremator or approved other device.

258Burial and Cremation Act, ss 37 and 56.
259Cremation Regulations, reg 4(1).