Shipman bill could lead to burial delays

The Scottish Council of Jewish Communities (SCoJeC) has asked the Scottish Parliament to make adjustments to a bill that could lead to distressing delays to burials.

The Certification of Death Bill is intended to tighten up existing procedures to ensure that crimes like those of Harold Shipman, the GP who murdered 15 elderly patients, are spotted sooner.

The bill recommends a standard practice of reviewing 25 per cent of deaths, with half of those cases being subjected to further scrutiny, to ensure there is no cause for concern. This would inevitably create burial delays and cause particular distress to Jewish families.

The bill assumes that families need to wait until the review process is finished to hold funerals, in order to ensure that no evidence is destroyed by cremation. However, as cremation is rare in the Jewish community, an exemption has been requested to allow families to bury loved ones while the review process is taking place.

Parliament will consider exemption clause

SCoJeC deputy director Leah Granat met representatives of the Scottish Parliament and the Minister for Health and Sport, Shona Robison, and suggested that it should be explicit in the bill that burial could take place "in parallel". She also explained, along with Muslim representatives, that delayed burial posed a specific religious problem.

She said: "The minister gave assurances that procedures will be put in place to allow burial to take place in parallel with review in certain circumstances. Although this is a welcome response to our evidence, we remain concerned that the proposed system of death certification could significantly delay burial in up to 25 per cent of cases.

"We will continue to discuss the issue with both the Scottish government and the relevant parliamentary committee in order to minimise distress to the bereaved."

    Last updated: 1:54pm, December 22 2010