A legal victory was achieved yesterday with the Court of Appeal ruling that the ban on open air pyre cremations of Covid-19 victims must return to the High Court for urgent hearing.
The Court of Appeal comprising Justices of Appeal Gregory Smith (President), Mark Mohammed and Ronnie Boodoosingh allowed an appeal brought by Cindy Ann Ramsaroop to challenge the Government’s ban on open air cremations for Covid-19 victims.
The Appellate Court overturned the decision of trial judge Justice Quinlan-Williams and Justice of Appeal Malcolm Holdip who had previously ruled there was no legal basis for challenging the Government’s policy ban.
In delivering the judgment at the virtual session yesterday, Justice of Appeal Boodoosingh noted that Ramsaroop had filed expert evidence from international specialist T&T epidemiologist Dr Farley Cleghorn who indicated there was no medical or scientific justification for the blanket ban on open air cremations.
According to Cleghorn’s report, the Government’s policy on using only closed indoor crematoriums actually increased the risk of contraction of the virus in an indoor closed setting. The Appeal Court further noted that World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines did not impose any prohibition against open-air cremations for Covid-19 victims.
The Court stated that the matter affected a significant section of the population and directed that the matter be treated with urgency by the High Court.
It therefore made an order directing Justice Quinlan-Williams give the matter priority over and above other cases docketed to her.
The matter was remitted for her urgent consideration.
Irrational and unjustified
The Court rejected the submissions of the State made by Fyard Hosein SC that the Government’s policy against open air cremations was not judicially reviewable by the Court.
The Court further rejected the submission that the issue should only be dealt with in Ramsaroop’s constitutional case where she claimed her rights to freedom of religious belief were violated.
Ramsaroop’s attorney Anand Ramlogan SC had submitted that the Government’s policy was judicially reviewable on the issue that it was irrational and unjustified— which the Court agreed on. Ramsaroop is the daughter of Silochan Ramsaroop, 77, who died from Covid at the Couva Hospital and Multi Training Facility on July 25 this year.
Police had initially given the family a permit for his final rites at the Waterloo site, but this was later rescinded.
The family was told it had to be revoked because of the ban on open-air pyre cremations.
Ramsaroop said her father, who was a devout Hindu, had as his final wish was to cremated on an open-air pyre in accordance with his religious beliefs.
Ramsaroop had said the ban on open air cremations was infringing on the family’s constitutional right to freedom of practising one’s religion. Her father’s funeral eventually took place with a closed cremation.
Ramsaroop was also represented Ramlogan, Jayanti Lutchmedial, Renuka Rambhajan, Vishaal Siewsaran, instructed by Natasha Bisram and Cheyenne Lugo.
Appearing for the State alongside Hosein were Rishi Dass, Sarah Sinanan, Savi Ramhit and Kadine Matthew.