15.3As we have mentioned, it is an offence under section 150 of the Crimes Act 1961 to improperly or indecently interfere with or offer any indignity to any dead human body or human remains. A breach of that provision may make a person liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years. Our research has turned up only a small number of prosecutions under this section. Examples are:
15.4We consider that there are a range of behaviours that should justify prosecutorial action but might not be prosecuted under section 150 of the Crimes Act due to the fact that the only punishment available is imprisonment. A specific offence under the new statute targeting disrespectful behaviour and carrying the alternatives of a fine or imprisonment would provide effective enforcement options for lower-level offending. For people who are in the business of providing funeral services, such behaviour might include the inappropriate storage of bodies, not disposing of a body within a reasonable time or failing to properly embalm a body (to the extent agreed with the family). For other people who may come into contact with a deceased body, examples of such behaviour include treating a body in a way that is designed to cause significant cultural offence or stealing an item from a coffin.
15.5Unlike section 150 of the Crimes Act, a new obligation under the burial and cremation legislation should be phrased as a positive obligation as follows:
Every person must treat any dead human body or human remains with respect.
15.6Knowingly breaching this obligation should be an offence punishable upon conviction by a fine. We analyse the maximum penalty for this and other proposed offences in Appendix B. Particularly offensive behaviour in respect of bodies, such as sexual conduct with a deceased body, should still be subject to the greater penalty under section 150 of the Crimes Act.
R79 The statute should provide that every person must treat any dead human body or human remains with respect. The breach of this requirement should be an offence.