VIC Cemeteries Amendment Bill 2021 Introduced To Protect Victims' Interment Rights

Tuesday 16 March 2021 @ 10.35 a.m. | Crime | Legal Research

On 2 March 2021, Victorian Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services, and Minister for Equality Martin Foley introduced the Cemeteries and Crematoria Amendment Bill 2021 (‘the Bill’) to the Legislative Assembly in the Victorian Parliament.

The Bill seeks to amend the Cemeteries and Crematoria Act 2003 in such a way that would grant the Secretary of the Department of Health the power to “direct the surrender or variation of a right of interment and ensure that the rights of all victims and other persons directly and adversely affected by serious crimes are given appropriate respect and a say in what happens to the remains and resting place of their loved ones”.  

The long title of the proposed Bill outlines that the Bill seeks to protect persons affected by serious crimes, including murder-suicide, from further “harm, pain and suffering that may be caused as a result of the exercise of rights of interment by or in favour of certain persons”. The Minister clarified this in Parliament after the first reading, adding that the proposed Bill seeks to “protect the rights of families and those who remain to not have further harm visited upon them by a convicted perpetrator”.

Background

The Bill was developed in response to the identification of a gap in the legislative framework, after a person convicted of killing their spouse retained the right of interment over the victim’s burial. The Minister, in his second reading speech, firmly stated that it is “unacceptable” for a killer to be able to maintain the right to make decisions about the interment of their victim in any way, whether it be having a say in the “type of memorial, … what words should be inscribed, … [or] who can be buried with their victim”.

The Minister emphasised that while this Amendment Bill did arise in response to one particular case, the amendments, should the Bill be assented, will go beyond this one case, in order to “reinforce the notion that all Victorians should have access to equal power, resources and opportunities, and are treated with dignity, respect and fairness”. 

What amendments have been proposed?

The Bill proposes to:

  • create a power through which the Secretary of the Department of Health may forcibly surrender or vary the interment rights of a person who is the perpetrator of an indictable offence; and
  • provide a list of mandatory factors that the Secretary must consider mandatory before deciding to vary or revoke interment rights, including the views of affected persons and the right holder, the nature and seriousness of the crime, and human rights issues; and
  • ensure that the provisions of the proposed Bill will apply retrospectively, so that the Bill may govern relevant “convictions … coronial findings … and rights of interment purchased or transferred on or after 1 July 2005 up to the commencement of the legislation”.

In his second reading speech, the Minister said that in developing the Bill, consultations with stakeholders showed that the Bill would be significantly relevant to situations of family violence and specifically, murder-suicide cases. Therefore, the amendments proposed in the Bill have been carefully drafted so that they would allow those affected by murder suicide to apply for consideration by the Secretary under this proposed scheme.

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Sources:

Cemeteries and Crematoria Amendment Bill 2021 (Vic), second reading speech and other materials available from TimeBase’s LawOne service.

Legislative Assembly: Hansard, Cemeteries and Crematoria Amendment Bill 2021, Introduction and First Reading (2 March 2021)

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