The funeral sector
16.1The funeral service industry has changed considerably over the past century. While 100 years ago it consisted of fairly limited services provided by an undertaker, these days, there are a myriad of services performed by a variety of people, including:
- funeral directors;
- cremator operators; and
- cemetery managers and employees.
16.2In the context of this change, our terms of reference require us to consider the regulation of funeral directors—specifically whether the current system of self-regulation should be retained or an alternative system instituted.
16.3The regulatory obligations specific to funeral service providers are found across a variety of Acts and regulations, particularly the following:
- The Burial and Cremation Act 1964. While this Act is central to our analysis in much of the rest of this Report, it has very little to say about funeral services other than empowering the making of cremation regulations.
- The Health Act 1956. This Act contains a number of provisions related to infectious and notifiable diseases. Some of these are applicable to funeral service providers when a person had such a disease before dying.
- The Health (Burial) Regulations 1946. These regulations are made under the Health Act 1920 and provide general requirements to reduce the damage and risk of nuisance from the handling and transporting of dead bodies; require funeral directors to be registered; and provide requirements for mortuaries.
- The Cremation Regulations 1973. These regulations are designed to ensure that bodies are not cremated until all legislative requirements have been met.
16.4By far the most detailed provisions are found in the two sets of regulations. We have found that both sets of regulations are out of date and are no longer fit for purpose. In many respects, they are overly prescriptive, difficult to understand and of limited relevance.
16.5In addition to these provisions, which are specific to the funeral service industry, there are a number of legislative obligations in respect of dead bodies that apply to everyone, including funeral service providers. Specifically, it is an offence under the Crimes Act 1961 to improperly or indecently interfere with or offer an indignity to any dead human body or human remains, whether buried or not. The Burial and Cremation Act requires a person who has charge of a body to dispose of it within a reasonable time. That Act also makes it an offence to:
- bury a body in a place that is not a place permitted under that Act;
- dispose of a body without obtaining a doctor’s certificate or coroner’s authorisation; or
- unlawfully disinter a body.
16.6In this part of the Report, we begin by describing the roles of the various participants in the funeral service industry, the statutory and regulatory obligations they are currently subject to and how those roles have changed and continue to change since that system of regulation was introduced. We then analyse whether that current system adequately protects against the risks and problems we found through our consultation. We conclude by proposing amendments to two aspects of the current regulatory system.