Page last updated at 13:16 GMT, Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Hindu wins Northumberland funeral pyre battle


Mr Ghai was refused a cremation permit by Newcastle City Council in 2006

A devout Hindu has won his bid for the right to be cremated on a traditional funeral pyre.

Davender Ghai, 71, was seeking to overturn a 2006 Newcastle City Council decision forbidding him from being cremated according to his beliefs.

Last year his challenge was dismissed by the High Court, but that ruling has been overturned at the Court of Appeal.

Judges decided the pyre would be lawful after Mr Ghai said it could include walls and a roof with an opening.

Today's verdict has breathed new life into an old man's dreams
Davender Ghai

In February 2006, the founder of the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society (AAFS), from Gosforth, Newcastle, was refused a permit for a 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.

The Ministry of Justice, which opposed the appeal case, had backed the local authority's decision.

But the Court of Appeal judges accepted that Mr Ghai was willing to be cremated within existing rules with his funeral pyre "enclosed in a structure" and ruled that the Ministry of Justice definition of a building was too narrow.

Davender Ghai outside the Court of Appeal
Mr Ghai said he had only wanted to clarify the law

Delivering the verdict, Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, who headed the appeal panel, said: "Contrary to what everyone seems to have assumed below, and I am not saying it is anyone's fault, it seems to us that Mr Ghai's religious and personal beliefs as to how his remains should be cremated once he dies can be accommodated within current cremation legislation."

Mr Ghai said the ruling had "breathed new life into an old man's dreams".

He said: "I always maintained that I wanted to clarify the law, not disobey or disrespect it.

"The Court of Appeal understood my request was consistent with both the spirit and letter of the law and my only regret is that tax payers' money would have been saved had that been recognised in 2006.

"My request was often misinterpreted, leading many to believe I wanted a funeral pyre cremation in an open field, whereas I always accepted that buildings and permanent structures would be appropriate."

'Air quality'

He added: "All the time I had complete faith that justice would be done. Now I can go in peace."

Newcastle City Council said it had refused permission for a traditional "open-air" funeral pyre, whereas on appeal Mr Ghai had agreed his beliefs could be satisfied within a building.

A spokesman said: "However, the judgment goes on to state that the difficulties which may be thrown up by planning and public health legislation, should an application be submitted, have not been considered as part of this judgment.

"Furthermore, the method of burning associated with funeral pyres is not covered by any regulations which currently only apply to cremators powered by gas or electricity which are designed to maintain environmental standards, in particular air quality.

"Following the judgment, all local authorities will await further guidance from the Ministry of Justice as regards any proposed regulations or legislation which may control the proposed manner of cremation to ensure environmental standards and public health are protected."

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