Two separate lawsuits seeking to challenge the ongoing prohibition against open-air cremations for COVID-19 victims are expected to be heard in March.
On Tuesday, High Court Judge Avason Quinlan-Williams held a virtual hearing in the first case brought by Cindy-Ann Ramsaroop-Persad in August, last year, and set March 2 for oral submissions.
Justice Quinlan-Williams also set dates for the filing of written submissions in the case.
According to her court filings, obtained by Guardian Media, Ramsaroop-Persad’s father Silochan Ramsaroop passed away five days after being admitted to the Couva Medical and Multi-Training Facility on July 20, last year.
Ramsaroop-Persad’s brother applied at the Chaguanas Police Station for a permit for their father to be cremated at the Waterloo cremation site on August 10 and it was granted.
However, hours later, a police officer contacted the family and claimed that the permit was revoked as it was issued in error because of the ongoing prohibition against open-air pyre cremations for COVID-19 victims.
Ramsaroop-Persad’s lawyers claimed that her father was a devout Hindu and his dying wish was having a traditional cremation at Waterloo.
They also claimed that the cost of an indoor cremation is prohibitive for persons such as her because a basic package costs approximately $18,500 as compared to $7,500 for an open-air pyre cremation.
As part of the lawsuit, Ramsaroop-Persad’s legal team is relying on the evidence of epidemiologist Dr Farley Cleghorn, who claims that the policy is unnecessary. They also claim that the policy is not supported by the World Health Organization or the United States Centre for Disease Control, whose advice the ministry and by extension the Government has been relying on during the ongoing pandemic.
In response to the lawsuit, the State has relied on the evidence of Chief Medical Officer Dr Roshan Parasram, who claimed that the average pyre does not completely destroy a human body and that the eruption of bodily fluids from corpses presents “an uncertain risk” to mourners at an open-air cremation.
While Justice Quinlan-Williams granted leave to pursue the case against the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Commissioner of Police, she excluded Minister of Health Terrance Deyalsingh from the lawsuit.
The Court of Appeal subsequently reversed the decision in relation to Deyalsingh’s participation in the case.
Ramsaroop-Persad was also seeking an injunction reversing the decision in her father’s case but it was denied and she and her family were forced to cremate him at an indoor crematorium.
Late last year, the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) brought a separate case over the issue and the effect on Hindu funeral rites and rituals.
That case has been assigned to Justice Nadia Kangaloo, who set the trial of the case for March 25.
Last week, Ramsaroop-Persad’s legal team wrote to the SDMS proposing that both cases be heard by the same judge.
Guardian Media understands that the SDMS rejected the proposal as it claimed that its case is different as it deals with consultation and proportionality and the failure of the State to consider its (SDMS) proposals on the policy.
It also claimed that unlike Ramsaroop-Persad it is not seeking constitutional relief or damages.