Some time this evening Christopher Harris will deliver the following speech to Woodstock Town Council, calling upon it to strike out its requirement that the interment of his father’s ashes be superintended by a funeral director.
Here’s another example of someone tenaciously pursuing the rights of the bereaved with an important test case. The ‘bereavement charity with expertise on relevant law’ to which Christopher refers is the AB Welfare and Wildlife Trust, which is administered by the indefatigable John Bradfield, who has done so much to establish the rights of the bereaved. Almost certainly no one alive knows the law around these matters better than John, whose book, ‘Green Burial — The DIY Guide to Law and Practice’, contributed so much to the empowerment of the natural burial movement.
Chris will attend the meeting dressed as an undertaker in order to make the point that undertakers are self-appointed.
Address to Woodstock Town Council
Tuesday 14 August, Woodstock Town Hall – Mayor’s Parlour
My father, Richard Harris, died on Wednesday 23 May this year. He resided in Woodstock for almost 40 years. In early July I approached the Town Council with a view of interring his cremated remains in the local Lawns Cemetery, however I was informed that the Council could not deal directly with me, citing the current Cemetery Rules and Regulations .
Those Rules and Regulations state that ‘all interments and memorials must be arranged by an approved professional firm‘. It is apparently implicit by this statement, according to this Council that,
“A fundamental part of an interment is the actual placing of the remains in the grave or cremation plot and there is therefore an implicit requirement of Woodstock Town Council that the professional firm that is organising the funeral oversee this in order to confirm that the arrangements have been fully complied with.”
This Council is almost unique in its Rules & Regulations on this matter. The only other council which makes the same stipulation is Deddington Parish….
Parishioners have a common law right to use public cemeteries in their own areas. Those experts with whom I have consulted are of the opinion that this legal right cannot be obstructed by demanding that undertakers be used.
There is no legal requirement to use undertakers for any purpose. The Department of Work & Pensions, clearly states that undertakers do not have to be used in order to qualify for a Funeral Payment. The ‘direct.gov’ website states that undertakers do not have to be used, so why does this town council?
The funeral industry is estimated to be worth £1billion per annum in this country. The industry is unregulated and unlicensed. There are no professional exams, nor accreditation. It begs the question, what is a ‘professional approved firm’ that this Council requires. And who decided the criteria in this Council as to which undertakers are approved? Is it the same people who, in March of this year, are minuted that the newly updated Rules and Regulations and associated documents pertaining to the Cemetery were ‘very comprehensive’? I must agree…they are…very comprehensively flawed. One of those documents is entitled ‘By-laws’, but I am reliably informed, that this Council does not have any by-laws unless they have been approved by a Secretary of State.
This Council is a member of the Institute for Cemetery & Crematorium Management. For many years, that organisation has had its ‘Charter for the Bereaved’, which sets out the highest standards for running public cemeteries. It clearly states that everyone has the right not to use undertakers.
Public cemeteries, have long been run by parish councils with few or no staff. They have never passed management responsibility to undertakers. According to those with whom I have consulted, this Council, (and Deddington’s), are believed to the first to step out of line. Therefore, this issue is of national importance.
So, what is the law? At face value, Article 3 in the Local Authorities Cemeteries Order, might appear to allow this Council to have any rules, which councillors deem desirable. However, rules are only lawful if they result in the “proper management” of the cemetery and do not breach other relevant legal principles, such as those found in the Localism Act 2011, Administration law and human rights.
The primary purpose of administration law, is to prevent all public services, including this Council, from abusing their powers. Such abuses and decisions which go beyond available powers, are unlawful or “ultra vires”.
Decisions must be impartial, fair and reasonable. Arbitrarily imposing the same rule on everyone, along with a refusal to consider individual needs, has in some circumstances, been judged by the courts as unlawful.
Local authority councillors, must avoid anything which might result is suspicion of misconduct, even when suspicions are unfounded. That may be written into the Code of Conduct which this Council has adopted under a new law. The Localism Act (2011), imposes a legal duty to promote and maintain high standards. Though this is not an accusation, some may suspect that there may be collusion between those making and those benefiting from the Rules. The very possibility of such a suspicion, is in itself, a reason to abandon the requirement to use undertakers.
Some in this Council have tried everything within their powers, perceived and actual, to prevent me from speaking this evening, and the conduct of some has, I suggest, not been befitting of someone in their position.
………are all principles under the Code of Conduct covered by the Localism Act (2011).
Should this Council elect to hold its discussion on Cemetery Rules & Regulations later this meeting, ‘in Confidential’, it will leave itself open to continuing suggestion of impropriety bringing one or more of the 7 principles into question.
If this Council is minded to review, both its literature and practices, I can provide the name of a bereavement charity with expertise on relevant law, which would be willing to provide free assistance.
In conclusion, I ask this Council to prove 7 points as documented , based on its current literature:-
(1) that it has the legitimate power to force newly bereaved individuals and families to use undertakers;
(2) that forcing everyone to use undertakers is not unlawful, according to public cemetery law, the Localism Act (2011), Administration law and principles on human rights;
(3) that it is providing a sensitive “bereavement service” which reflects the same principles as those underpinning our health and welfare services. That means providing choices and opportunities, by being creative, flexible and empowering. It also means using sensitive language;
(4) that parishioners buy plots and are the owners of those plots;
(5) that it is correct to state that parishioners only own memorials and monuments for 25 years;
(6) that it can charge anyone who asks to look at the legally protected burial register; and lastly
(7) that its “by-laws” really are by-laws, by making available the decision letter of the relevant Secretary of State.
It would be remiss to end my oration without mentioning my dad, a former resident and elector. It is my family’s hope that he’ll be on a corner some time again soon.
If not, for £70 more than what it will cost to have him interred in Woodstock, I can have his ashes blasted into Space on 10 October 2012, boldly going where no Harris has gone before… The price includes a tour of the launch pad, attending a memorial service and a DVD of the ‘event’.
RIP, Dad. Much missed and much-loved. xxx
The GFG is sending a reporter to this event and will report back tomorrow.