The Cremation Regulations 2008 came into force on 1 January 2009 and gives bereaved families the right to inspect medical forms before cremation. The measures follow recommendations from the inquiry into the Harold Shipman deaths and are intended to allow relatives to draw any concerns about unexpected symptoms to the notice of the medical referee.

The new regulations are an interim measure which will be replaced by a new system of death certification, to be introduced by the Coroner’s Bill.

The applicant for cremation must inform the cremation authority that they would like to inspect the medical certificate and confirmatory medical certificate, or that they have nominated someone to inspect those documents. The applicant must also provide the cremation authority with one or more telephone numbers at which they, or their nominated person can be contacted.

The cremation authority is required to make reasonable efforts to notify the applicant for cremation or any nominated persons on the telephone number(s) provided of the receipt of the relevant certificates who can then inspect the certificates and make representations 48 hours from the time of notification.

The guidance for doctors published by the Ministry of Justice acknowledges the fact that some of the information requested in forms such as the medical certificate and confirmatory medical certificate may have been provided by the deceased in confidence. In cases where this would be a breach of confidence, the relevant information should be given to the medical referee on a separate sheet of paper attached to the form giving reasons and stating that the information should not be disclosed. A medical referee is appointed by the Secretary of State for each cremation authority.