New Scottish ‘A Forms’

words: Jim Brodie

Changes to cremation forms in Scotland come into effect this month. Here Jim Brodie, of the SAIF Scottish Government Liaison Office, outlines the new legislation and responsibilities.

The new A Forms from the Cremation Act Scotland 2019 introduce a much more modern approach to cremation legislation, clarifying and enhancing the responsibilities and role of both applicants and the Cremation Authority.

Importantly, all statutory forms can be delivered electronically. Therefore, an applicant can download, complete, sign and copy forms from their mobile phone then email them directly to the crematorium.

The onus is on the applicant to give full and accurate information and it is the sole responsibility of the Cremation Authority to accept and allow the cremation or reject this information and refuse cremation. They are not duty bound to give a reason.

In time, it will become good practice to complete forms online, either in the office or within the family home. At present, we are waiting to see if Cremation Authority portals will be developed.

With the form A1 – cremation for an adult or child – we will assist clients by asking all the usual identification questions with the addition of email address and mobile phone number as enhanced security for identification.

There will be no medical questions apart from the repetition of the form 14 hazards questions. This is a necessary double check for health and safety, which also removes the funeral director from liability if there were to be any unfortunate events with unknown pacemakers, etc.

Procurator Fiscal involvement – or investigation questions to the extent of being aware of the E1 form being issued – will also tidy up some grey areas.

The main area of consternation for some will be the question surrounding the combined weight of body and coffin. The Inspector of Cremation, Robert Swanson, has made it clear that he is looking for a common sense approach to this. While the language could be interpreted as insensitive it will be an important factor going forward as the Cremation Authority and funeral directors have a duty of care to take reasonable precautions to protect the health and wellbeing of not only staff but ourselves. The exact weight of the coffin has not been requested but as accurate an indication as possible is necessary.

There have been two catastrophic events due to cases of obese individuals causing overheating of the combustion chamber, as well as too many occasions where the crematorium wasn’t made aware of coffin dimensions resulting in it not fitting from chapel to combustion area, leaving the family to see the coffin being wheeled back out the back door.

There are reasonably priced weighing machines available, but if this isn’t possible the Cremation Authority is looking for the coffin dimensions and an estimation of the weight.

The removal of a witness is another major step forward. This is an area which England and Wales removed circa 2009. This again places all the legal onus on the applicant to supply accurate information and removes the liability from the funeral director. For your added protection it is good practice to make a copy of all forms the applicant sends and email a copy to them mitigating any future misinterpretations.

The final advance is the legal ability to return uncollected ashes to the Cremation Authority. This is not for cremations pre 4 April 2019 but, going forward, any ashes uncollected after a minimum of four weeks – and without any instructional contact from the applicant – can be returned to the crematorium. We would remind all that this is a minimum period and therefore recommend waiting a longer period before return.

The Scottish Government did not take any action to clarify the ultimate right of legal possession of ashes. While it is understood that the applicant has the right to decide upon uplift from, and/or disposal within the crematorium, the legal entitlement to possession of uplifted ashes has to be left to the courts.

The criterion for the hierarchy of applicant is listed in the guidance but neither we nor the Cremation Authority can make that decision.

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