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Cremation Regulations

Volume 485: debated on Wednesday 17 December 2008

I wish to make the following statement to the House about new Cremation Regulations for England and Wales. New cremation regulations were laid in Parliament on 3 November 2008 and replace the 1930 Cremation Regulations, which are now seen as confusing and outdated. They therefore required modernisation and consolidation.

These new regulations come into effect on 1 January 2009, with a transitional period of one month, during which time both old and new statutory forms may be used. The right of families to inspect the medical forms completed by doctors, contained for the first time in the new regulations, is a significant reform and follows recommendations from Dame Janet Smith’s inquiry into the Harold Shipman murders. The new regulations are an interim measure which will be replaced by a new system of death certification, on which the Department of Health is leading. The Coroners and Justice Bill mentioned in the Queen’s Speech on 3 December will create the role of medical examiner. The Medical Examiner will examine all deaths not requiring coronial post mortem or inquest, including those where the method of disposal is burial. The Cremation Regulations will no longer be required in their present form once the medical examiner system has come into effect throughout England and Wales.

These new regulations allow the applicant for cremation to inspect the medical forms of a deceased family member before a cremation takes place. The applicant will be able to draw the medical referee’s attention to any concerns about unexpected symptoms or discrepancies in the case.

The countersignature on the application form has been abolished, and instead a warning about making a false statement has been placed on all of the forms. Making such a false statement is a criminal offence under section 8(2) of the Cremation Act 1902 and is punishable by up to 2 years’ imprisonment.

The Secretary of State appoints medical referees on the nomination of the cremation authority and will also now have a power to revoke the appointment of a referee on the grounds of incapacity or misbehaviour. Guidance may also be provided for cremation authorities when considering who they would ask the Secretary of State to appoint as a medical referee.

There are also new statutory forms to permit the cremation of stillborn babies, as well as modernised versions of the forms made under the 1930 Regulations.