On 19 and 20 January 2010 the Court of Appeal will hear the appeal of Davender Kumar Ghai against the prohibition of open air cremation upheld by the High Court in May 2009. It was a case made notorious by the intervention of Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who asserted that indigenous Britishers would be “upset and offended” by funeral pyres and “find it abhorrent that human remains were being burnt in this way”. Read previous blog posts here and here.
I have just had an email from Andrew Singh Bogan, legal co-ordinator of the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society:
The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has been granted permission to formally intervene in the legal proceedings. They will present their own arguments before the Court of Appeal in support of our arguments.
Given the Commission’s prominence, resources and impartiality, it might be an idea for you guys to contact them directly to inform them of your support. This could enable your support to receive far greater exposure…and allow help us to escape censure for submitting late evidence!
However, the Commission’s legal team (headed by counsel from Matrix Chambers) would not appreciate any possibility of us ‘feeding’ them evidence, so any approach should make clear the independence and impartiality of your support. It is fine to say you recently made with the AAFS charity [Anglo-Asian Friendship Society] and we have informed you of the Commission’s intervention.
Why has the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) felt impelled to intervene? Because it wants to “draw the court’s attention to Article 27 of the International Covenant for the Protection of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which contains the ‘right of ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities to enjoy their own religion [and] to profess and practice [sic] their own religion.’” It also wants to draw the attention of the court to related declarations by the United Nations and the Council of Europe.
Is it good to see an influential body like the EHRC get behind this appeal? Up to a point, perhaps. But I wonder if it could be counter-productive and play to the xenophobic lobby, something which Straw has already so deftly and successfully done.
Is this appeal just about securing an exemption for a tiny minority of Hindus to practise their faith? I earnestly hope not. It has to be about securing the right of anyone at all, of much faith or none whatever, to opt for open air cremation. As Rupert Callender of the Green Funeral Company has observed: “The recent excavations at the Stonehenge complex show that ritually cremating our dead outdoors is at the heart of our culture. This is about reclaiming ritual … It is what the natural death movement is all about- the truth.”
I hope that Andrew—who is India at the moment, and very busy—will be able to clear this up for us. Either this is a matter of individual liberty for all citizens of the UK, or it is nothing at all. My jury is presently AWOL.
If you would like to offer your support, email Matrix Chambers: firstname.lastname@example.org