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Cindy-Ann Ramsaroop-Persad with her father Silochan Ramsaroop.

A High Court Judge has been asked to expeditiously hear and determine a lawsuit from a private citizen seeking to challenge the continued prohibition of open-air pyre cremations for COVID-19 victims.

Appellate Judges Gregory Smith, Mark Mohammed and Ronnie Boodoosingh made the suggestion yesterday, as they upheld Cindy-Ann Ramsaroop-Persad’s appeal over the judge’s decision to grant her leave to pursue the lawsuit against the Office of the Attorney General and Office of the Commissioner of Police (CoP) but not the Minister of Health.

Boodoosingh, who delivered the panel’s decision in the procedural appeal, noted that with the current death rate from the virus, the country’s Hindu community continued to be directly affected by the policy.

“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,” Boodoosingh added, as he noted that the case should be prioritised over others.

In the decision, the panel ruled that Ramsaroop-Persad had raised an arguable case with a realistic prospect of success that the policy is illegal or unfair.

“The question arises whether a more proportionate policy could not have been arrived at instead of stating that open pyre cremations are not allowed,” Boodoosingh said.

The judges noted that High Court Judge Avason Quinlan-Williams was correct to allow the case against the Commissioner of Police, as senior officers in police districts grant permission for such funerals.

However, they said that aspect of the case could not proceed without the Health Minister being included.

“It is arguable that the claim against the CoP is rendered unsustainable in the absence of an allowed challenge to the policy,” Boodoosingh said.

According to her court filings, Ramsaroop-Persad’s father Silochan Ramsaroop passed away five days after being admitted to the Couva Medical and Multi-Training Facility on July 20.

Ramsaroop-Persad’s brother applied at the Chaguanas Police Station for a permit to cremate him at the Waterloo cremation on August 10 and it was granted. However, hours later, a police officer contacted the family and claimed the permit was revoked as it was issued in error because of the ongoing prohibition against open-air pyre cremations for COVID-19 victims.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 her father was a devout Hindu and having a traditional cremation at Waterloo was his dying wish. They also claimed the cost of an indoor cremation is prohibitive for persons such as her because a basic package costs approximately $18,500, compared to $7,500 for an open-air pyre cremation.

Quinlan-Williams was scheduled to hear the trial last week but it was vacated pending the outcome of the appeal.