A new law will require coroners to consider the cultures of grieving families when deciding whether to let whanau touch or stay with the bodies of their loved ones.
At present the Coroners Act does not require coroners to take tikanga Maori and cultures into consideration when considering requests from family to touch or remain with the tupapaku (deceased body).
In practice, coroners do use their discretion when considering such requests. But after families raised concerns during a Maori affairs select committee inquiry into support for grieving whanau, a bill that makes it a requirement to consider tikanga Maori and other cultures is being been introduced to Parliament.
The Coroners (Access to Body of Dead Person) Amendment Bill implements a recommendation of the select committee by amending section 26 of the Coroners Act 2006 to make such cultural considerations a requirement rather than discretionary.
In its report on the Inquiry into Whanau Access to and Management of Tupapaku, the committee said it considered the lack of communication between agencies and whanau the biggest barrier to whanau accessing and managing tupapaku (dead people).
"We received many submissions from affected whanau highlighting the grief, anger and frustration they felt because the process was not communicated properly or appropriately."
In its response to the inquiry, the Government agreed that cultural considerations were important at what was a difficult time for whanau and that was reflected in current settings of the coronial system.
"However, there are opportunities to improve the responsiveness of the coronial system to cultural considerations."
The Ministry of Justice will also consider whether a code of best practice that balances cultural considerations with the public interest in finding the cause of death should be developed, as well as leading work to review whether communications between first responders such as police and whanau can be improved.
The ministry is securing new contracts for the delivery of coronial services such as transport, mortuary and pathology services to ensure national consistency and will look at whether coronial resources are adequate.