Page last updated at 10:56 GMT, Friday, 8 May 2009 11:56 UK

Devout Hindu loses cremation bid

Davender Ghai
Davender Ghai has been given permission to appeal against the ruling

A bid by a devout Hindu for the legal right to be cremated on a traditional open-air funeral pyre has been rejected by the High Court in London.

Davender Ghai, 70, was seeking to overturn a decision by Newcastle City Council in 2006 preventing funeral pyres from being held.

The council has said the traditional religious practice is impractical.

On Friday, Mr Justice Cranston ruled that pyres were prohibited by law, and the prohibition was "justified".

Mr Ghai, from Gosforth, Newcastle, the founder of the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society (AAFS), had earlier told a judge that a pyre was essential to a "good death" and the release of his spirit into the afterlife.

I will not deny my claim is provocative, least of all in a nation as notoriously squeamish towards death as our own
Davender Ghai

The father of three said he wanted to die "with dignity" and not be "bundled in a box".

In February 2006 he was refused a permit for an open-air cremation site in a remote part of Northumberland.

Newcastle City Council said the burning of human remains anywhere outside a crematorium was prohibited under the 1902 Cremation Act, a ruling the Ministry of Justice agreed was correct.

Mr Ghai took his case to the High Court, invoking Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects religious freedom, and Article 8, which covers the right to private and family life.

In a statement to the court he said: "I will not deny my claim is provocative, least of all in a nation as notoriously squeamish towards death as our own.

"However, I honestly do not believe natural cremation grounds would offend public decency - as long as they were discreet, designated sites far from urban and residential areas."

'Sensitive issue'

Mr Justice Cranston said that Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who had resisted Mr Ghai's legal challenge, argued that people might be "upset and offended" by pyres and "find it abhorrent that human remains were being burned in this way".

He said that while it was "a difficult and sensitive issue", the court had to respect the conclusion of elected representatives.

Those in support of pyres would have to change the "present balance of interests" through the political process, rather than the courts, Mr Justice Cranston said.

He ruled that Article 8 did not apply because an open-air pyre would not only affect family and private life but would also have a "public character".

Dying wish

Mr Justice Cranston gave Mr Ghai permission to take his case to the Court of Appeal.

He added: "I don't think there is a real prospect of success, but it seems to me sufficiently a matter of public importance for me to give permission to appeal."

A spokesman for Newcastle City Council said after the ruling: "Newcastle City Council has, and will continue to, consult with different faiths in an attempt to accommodate their funeral requirements.

"This is a lengthy judgement and it will take some time to consider all of its detail."

Mr Ghai, who is currently receiving medical treatment in India, said: "I shall appeal until the very end, in the faith that my dying wish will not go unheard.

"A matter of such magnitude deserves to be heard by the highest courts in our land and I shall not tire until all legal avenues are exhausted."



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