Court of Appeal Victory for Covid-19 victims in open-air cremation case
Victory was achieved yesterday (22/11/21) in the Court of Appeal in Trinidad and Tobago for Covid-19 victims and their loved ones in Government’s prohibition of open-air cremations. The Government has banned such cremations as part of its Covid-19 protocols for funerals, although open-air cremations are still allowed for those who die from other causes.
The ban has been challenged in court by Cindy-Ann Ramsaroop-Persad, whose father, Silochan Ramsaroop, died from Covid-19 on July 25th this year. She had claimed that her rights to freedom of religious belief had been violated, but Justice Quinlan-Williams and Justice of Appeal Malcolm Holdip had both ruled that there was no legal basis for challenging the Government’s policy as the guidelines do not have the force of law and require voluntary compliance.
These rulings were overturned yesterday in the Appellate Court by Justices of Appeal Gregory Smith (President), Mark Mohammed and Ronnie Boodoosingh and the matter returned to the High Court where, they suggested, it should be determined as a matter of priority by Justice Quinlan-Williams.
“The decision in this case impacts on a wide section of the national community,” Boodoosingh said. “We, therefore, consider that this matter should receive expeditious attention given the time that has already passed, and every effort should be made to hear and decide this claim one way or the other in the shortest possible time.”
The State, represented by Fyard Hosein SC, supported by Rishi Dass, Sarah Sinanan, Savi Ramhit and Kadine Matthew, had argued that the Government’s policy against open-air cremations was not judicially reviewable by the Court. Ramsaroop-Persad’s legal team, headed by Anand Ramlogan SC and including Jayanti Lutchmedial, Renuka Rambhajan and Vishaal Siewsaran, instructed by Natasha Bisram and Cheyenne Lugo, disagreed, submitting that the Government’s policy was indeed judicially reviewable on the issue that it was irrational and unjustified.
Ramsaroop-Persad had filed expert evidence from Dr. Farley R. Cleghorn MD, MPH, a Trinidadian international specialist epidemiologist based in Washington DC, who indicated that there was no medical or scientific justification for the blanket ban on open-air cremations and that the Government’s policy on using only indoor crematoriums actually increased the risk of contraction of the virus because of the closed indoor setting.
The Appeal Court agreed with this and also noted that open-air cremations for Covid-19 victims had not been imposed by World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The Court ruled that Ramsaroop-Persad’s case had a realistic prospect of success, with Boodoosingh commenting that “The question arises whether a more proportionate policy could not have been arrived at instead of stating that open-pyre cremations are not allowed”.
Ramsaroop-Persad’s lawyers claimed that, as a devout Hindu, Mr. Ramsaroop’s dying wish was that he be given a traditional open-air cremation. They also noted that the cost of an indoor cremation is prohibitive for many people, it being more than twice the cost of an open-air one.
Source : Anna Ramdass Trinidad Express Newspaper
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