March 16, 2016

In a somewhat macabre ruling, the Court of Appeal has overruled efforts by three sisters to prevent the burial of their mother who died in 2002.

In what Justice Hugh Fraser labelled a “terribly sad case” even a plea to merely view their mother’s body, was also shut down. June Woo died at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in November 2002. Her daughters sought an inquest on the grounds that the death was due to the hospital’s negligence.

Woo’s corpse was kept in a Queensland mortuary until 2009 when the coroner concluded against the sister’s allegations. The trio took to the Supreme Court to have the coroner’s decision reviewed and to injunct any burial. Those applications failed in mid-2010 and their appeal was withdrawn in early 2011.

The siblings then requested the coroner to release the body to Simplicity Funerals to conduct the burial. However they subsequently refused to allow Simplicity to bury the body because – they claimed – the cadaver contains another person’s organs and that those of their mother are missing.

In January 2016 Justice Martin Daubney ordered Simplicity to act upon the direction of the chief executive of the Department of Justice & Attorney-General under Burials Assistance Act s 3 to bury Mrs Woo’s remains under the rites of the Catholic Church pronto.

It was an application for a stay against the burial – pending the appeal against Justice Daubney’s decision – that Justice Fraser had to rule on.

Concluding the statutory burial must proceed because clearly “no suitable arrangements for the disposal of the body have been made,” he rejected concerns about drainage at the burial site and the garments which the sisters believed should clothe the remains.

He also refused Helena Yu’s “passionate plea” for an opportunity for viewing because – given “the state of the body” – any viewing was “inappropriate”.

Noting the appeal had no prospects of success, he ruled in a judgment published yesterday, that the stay should be refused.

Simplicity will, therefore, proceed with the internment of Ms Woo’s mortal remains under the department’s directions and the Yu sisters are prevented from having any further say in the matter.

Yu & Anor v Chief Executive, Dept of Justice & Attorney-General [2016] QCA 054 Fraser JA published, 15/03/2016

Categories: Litigation & Law Practice

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