2 judges to hear challenges to open-pyre cremation ban

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday


Justice Nadia Kangaloo. –

TWO High Court judges will hear separate challenges on the guidelines issued by the Minister of Health which prohibits open-air pyre cremations for those who died of the virus.

Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams set the date for the hearing of the challenge brought by the daughter of a covid19 victim at a sitting this week. The trial has been set for March 2. The other case, filed on behalf of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, will be heard on March 25 by Justice Nadia Kangaloo.

The case returned to Quinlan-Williams following a Court of Appeal ruling in November last year.

The appellate court overturned her earlier decision and that of Justice of Appeal Malcolm Holdip who both previously ruled there was no legal basis for challenging the Government’s guidelines.

In an oral decision, Justices of Appeal Gregory Smith, Mark Mohammed and Ronnie Boodoosingh allowed the appeal of Cindy-Ann Ramsaroop-Persad and granted her leave to file a claim for judicial review against the cremation guidelines. The matter was sent back to her for her urgent consideration.

Justice Avason Quinlan-Williams. –

In her earlier ruling, Quinlan-Williams allowed Ramsaroop-Persad to challenge the police commissioner’s decision not to grant a permit for the cremation but was denied permission to include the minister in the lawsuit.

The judge held that Ramsaroop-Persad’s application against the minister raised no arguable ground for success since the guidelines did not have the force of law or require voluntary compliance.

Ramsaroop-Persad’s father, Silochan, 77, died at the Couva Hospital and Multi Training Facility on July 25. His death certificate said he died of covid19 pneumonia, covid19 infection, hypertension, and Type II diabetes.

The police initially gave the family a permit for his final rites at Waterloo, but this was later rescinded.

The family was told it had to be revoked because of the ban on open-air pyre cremations for covid19 deaths. Open-air pyre cremations are allowed for those who did not die of covid19.

He was eventually cremated at a funeral home but Ramsaroop-Persad said her father, a devout Hindu, wanted to be cremated at the Waterloo site and his dying wish was for the rituals for Hindu cremations when he died.

In its case, the Maha Sabha is claiming that open-pyre cremations do not cause the spread of covid19 and it was more costly to do cremations in crematoriums.

It has also said some of its rituals and rites were being compromised by the ban.

On January 5, attorneys for Ramsaroop-Persad wrote to Quinlan-Williams’ judicial support team asking if one judge can hear the matter.

They pointed out that the Maha Sabha’s claim was set for urgent hearing by Kangaloo and felt since the matters were closely related as it sought the same constitutional relief in relation to the policy ban on open-air cremations.

They asked that either their matter be transferred to Kangaloo or the Maha Sabha’s be transferred to her (Quinlan-Williams) so that one judge can hear both cases.

In response, the Maha Sabha’s attorneys said their claim raised distinct issues of consultation and proportionality, in particular, the State’s failure to consider the Hindu body’s specific proposals to mitigate the harshness of the policy ban on the practice of Hinduism.

They also clarified that they were not seeking constitutional relief or damages but had advanced the case in the public interest since it was a concern for the Hindu community.

They also said they were open to dialogue and discussions with the ministry on the issue.

Quinlan-Williams’ team only acknowledged receiving the request.

In recent weeks, there have been repeated calls by not only members of the Hindu community but chairmen of regional corporations for the ban to be lifted because of almost filled-to-capacity cemeteries in their respective districts. The latest calls were made by chairman of the Princes Town Regional Corporation Gowrie Roopnarine and Chaguanas Mayor Faaiq Mohammed.