News & Events

  • The Current Law regarding Death Organs Bodies Burials and Sperm

    The Current Law regarding Death, Organs, Bodies, Burials and Sperm

    What better time to write about organs, bodies and burials than now as we approach Halloween. In June last year I wrote an article which looked at the then recent case of Darcy v Duckett – a case which examined the Common Law principles regarding the right to dispose of a body as well as Court’s regard to traditional Aboriginal Law.

    In this article I wanted to give a quick summary of the law as it stands today with regard to death, organs, bodies, burials and tissue transplantation (in light of the recent landmark Queensland case of Re Creswell [2018] QSC 142)

    Basic principle

    The basic principle that there is no property in a body (Doodeward v Spence (1908) 6 CLR 408) means that there can be no ownership in a corpse. As such, one cannot ‘dispose’ or direct what will occur with their body after death.

    The Exception

    There is an exception to the basic rule (outlined by Griffith CJ in Doodeward) – where a person has, by the lawful exercise of work and skill, dealt with a human body (or body part) in such a way that it has acquired some attributes differentiating it from a mere corpse awaiting burial and the body (or body part) is displayed in the public interest, then the body (or body part) can be considered property capable of being disposed of.

    In the case of Doodeward, a stillborn baby with two heads was preserved by a doctor who displayed it in his office (this was a 1908 case). The Doodeward exception would apply to say, a mummy that is displayed in a museum.

    Burial and Funeral Instructions

    Given the basic principle above, a person’s wishes with respect to the disposal of their body is not legally binding (Smith v Tamworth City Council (1997) 41 NSWLR 680)). Whatever funeral and burial instructions you communicate via your Will, personal documents or verbally can be disregarded at law.

    Who has the right to dispose of a person’s body after death?

    Where there is a Will, the executor (and if there is more than one, then the executors jointly unless contrary intention is expressed in the Will) has the right and responsibility to arrange for the disposal of the deceased person’s body.

    Where there is no Will, then the person with the highest rank to apply for a Grant of Representation in that jurisdiction has the same rights as an executor.

    (references contained in previous article)

    The person with the right to dispose may do so in any manner they choose provided it is not unlawful or unreasonable (Leeburn v Derndorfer (2004) 14 VR 100, 104), or exercised in a way that prevents family and friends from reasonably and appropriately expressing affection for the deceased (Smith v Tamworth City Council (1997) 41 NSWLR 680, 694.)

    Where more than one person has an equal right to dispose of the body

    The Court will generally decide a conflict between them in a ‘practical way paying due regard to the need to have a dead body disposed of without unreasonable delay, but with all proper respect and decency‘ (Calma v Sesar (1992) 106 FLR 446 at [14])

    The practicalities of burial without unreasonable delay will prevail.

    Cremation

    A person can be cremated in any outfit but pacemakers and other such devices must be removed from the body before cremation. The body must be contained in a coffin, casket or some other container and must be cremated one body at a time.

    Cremation can take one to two hours. Once cooled, the ashes are packed into a plastic container and a name plate is attached before being stored ahead of collection.

    In the ACT, the operator of the crematorium must give the ashes to the person who applied for the cremation (which may be at odds with the common law) (Cemeteries and Crematoria Regulation (ACT) 2003 Reg 10).

    In the ACT, a statement by a person that his or her body is not to be cremated is legally binding. An injunction or other relief can be obtained against the operator of the crematorium if necessary (Reg 8).

    Do Burials have to be at the Cemetery (and Cremations at the Crematorium)?

    We have three cemeteries in the ACT – Woden, Hall and Gungahlin Cemeteries.

    It is an offence (which can be punishably by imprisonment) to bury human remains other than at a cemetery unless the Minister’s prior written permission has been obtained (Cemeteries and Crematoria Act (ACT) 2003 Section 24)

    Cremations can only occur within the crematorium (Section 25 of the Act).

    What can you do with the ashes once they are collected?

    Ashes can be:

    • Buried in a cemetery in a small plot, or placement in columbarium or niche wall;
    • Preserved in an urn or kept at home in some other favourite spot; or
    • Scattered on private land, beach, river, public park, at sea or some other place that is significant to the deceased person or their family.

    If ashes are scatted on private land, permission must be obtained by the owners of the private land.

    If the ashes are scattered in a public park or other public place, permission may need to be obtained from the local council or park. Councils and local government may set a place and time when these activities can be undertaken and can impose other restrictions.

    You may want to carefully consider where you scatter the ashes and in particular, to scatter them at a place that you can revisit later (e.g. if ashes are buried in your backyard and you later move, you may not be able to visit the site in the future).

    Ashes can be scattered at sea if permission of the vessel operator is obtained.

    Taking ashes overseas

    Ashes can be taken overseas but it is good practice to:

    • contact the consulate of the country the ashes are being taken to in order to comply with the local requirements; and
    • Carry the ashes in a sealed contained and have a copy of the death certificate of the deceased person along with a copy of a statement from the crematorium identifying the deceased person and where the body was cremated (in case you get picked on by customs!)

    Can you bury a body in a vault or tomb?

    The short answer – yes! But the operator of the cemetery must not bury human remains in a vault or tomb unless the body has been embalmed and is in a selected corrosion resistant mental container (Reg 10)

    Removal of tissue, organs and sperm from the body

    In the case of Re Creswell which was handed down earlier this year in Queensland, an application made by a de facto partner to access the deceased sperm the day following his death was granted by the Queensland Supreme Court. His sperm was removed at the Toowoomba Hospital by medical staff and preserved at the Queensland Facility Group Laboratory.

    Subsequent to the application for removal of the sperm, Ms Creswell applied to the Queensland Supreme Court seeking a declaration that she be entitled to possession and use off the sperm in assisted reproductive treatment.

    The Respondent to the Application, the Attorney-General for the State of Queensland, neither opposed nor consented to Ms Creswell’s application.

    It was held that:

    1. The removal of sperm for use in assisted reproductive technology was for a medical purpose – pursuant to section 22 of the Transplant and Anatomy Act 1979 (Qld) (note that section requires the deceased not to have expressed an object to the removal of his sperm)
    2. Once removed, the sperm was property capable of possession given that work and skill was exercised in relation to its removal, separation and preservation (note the case of Doodeward above); and
    3. Discretionary factors including best interest of the child, whether Ms Creswell’s decision was a rational one and community standards, weighed in favour of making the declarations sought by Ms Creswell and the declarations sought were granted.

    In the ACT, a distinction is made in the legislation (Transplantation and Anatomy Act 1978) with regard to the removal of tissue during lifetime as opposed to after death.

    In both cases, tissue can be removed where the person expressed their consent for the removal of the tissue for the purposes of donation to the body of another living person, or for the purposes of other therapeutic or medical or scientific purposes.

    However, the definition of ‘Tissue’ in the legislation does not include spermatozoa (sperm).

    In the ACT case of Roblin v the Public Trustee for the Australian Capital Territory and Labservices Pty Limited [2015] ACTSC 100, the deceased had consented to the removal of his sperm during his lifetime. His sperm was collected and stored cryogenically during his lifetime.

    He subsequently died intestate (without a Will) and his wife brought an Application seeking a declaration from the ACT Supreme Court to have the sperm form part of his estate where it would be received by his wife. The Court held that the sperm constituted property of the estate where it was passed to the wife in accordance with the intestacy laws.

    Written by Golnar Nekoee, Director, Wills and Estate Planning

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  • Technology and Witnessing Documents

    Technology and Witnessing Documents

    As advancements in communication technologies are increasingly bringing people on the other side of the world into our living rooms or office spaces, there is new uncertainty about the extent to which the law is adaptable. One example is the witnessing of documents through electronic means such as Skype or FaceTime. Generally, legislation refers to the need for ‘presence’ without necessarily providing whether virtual presence is sufficient for witnessing purposes. While, for all intents and purposes, Skyping or FaceTiming someone signing a document has the same effect as being physically present, the law generally looks upon both situations differently.

    The rationale for the witnessing requirements of certain documents is to reduce the risk of people entering into fraudulent agreements without consent. Ensuring that a document is appropriately witnessed is important for both the signor and witness. The signor may end up with an invalid legal agreement and the witness may be subject to a fine if they fail to comply with his or her obligations. For the most part, witnesses need only be over 18, of sound mind, and not subject to a conflict of interest. In some instances, however, the witness will need to be authorised person who is listed under the Statutory Declarations Regulations 2018 (Cth) such as a doctor, pharmacist or bank officer.

    In keeping with the rationale of witnessing requirements, the Attorney-General’s Department provides that a document cannot be witnessed via webcam or Skype on the grounds that the person witnessing the signing must be able to authorise and validate the identity of the declarant. This may seem out of step with modern technology that would enable a witness to identify the signor as they sign the relevant document. However, the New South Wales Law Reform Commission, when considering the joint signing of wills, stressed that physical presence allows for witnesses to pick up on facts relevant to issues of the testator’s capacity, understanding or freedom from pressure. The only jurisdiction that has shown any movement toward accepting witnessing via electronic means is the United Kingdom where, in the case of Re ML (Use of Skype Technology) [2013] EWHC 2091, the Court allowed the signing of adoption consent forms to be witnessed via Skype. However, it is important to note this ruling was specific to the facts of the case and has not yet been heavily relied on.

    Although it may seem that the law is lagging behind the realities and opportunities presented by modern technology, it remains the case that in Australia documents must be witnessed physically rather than virtually for the time being.

    If you require legal advice regarding contracts or witnessing documents, please contact us.

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  • Blockchain: The Basics

    If we had a Bitcoin for every time we heard the word “blockchain’, we’d be (virtually) rolling in it.

    Distributed Ledger Technology, or DLT, has taken the commercial world by storm, but what is it? And what legal issues might arise from a technology that is poised to completely revolutionise the way we transact with one another?

    Blockchain

    Blockchain Basics Networksq

    To keep it relatively simple, ‘blockchain’ refers to a list of records or transactions that are linked and secured in ‘blocks’. Each new piece of information is added to the end of the list (producing a continuously growing chain) in a way that is instantaneous, permanent and irreversible.

    The information is stored on a ‘distributed ledger’, which means that it is shared across the entire network of participants, rather than in a centralised place managed by a single administrator. This method of storage ensures the quality and security of the data, as any update to the ledger requires the consensus of the majority of participants (or ‘nodes’). If consensus is reached, the latest, agreed-upon version is saved on every node, instantaneously and simultaneously.

    Untitled Diagram (7)

    As per the image on the left, each new block of information is added to the chain of previous transactions, containing a unique encoded fingerprint, as well as the fingerprint of the previous block.

    The benefits of this ever-growing chain are that each block is an accurate, instantaneous and time-stamped record of a transaction. Since every participant in the network verifies a transaction, there is an immutable record that can’t be tampered with later on. Moreover, public blockchains (think Bitcoin) are easily and widely accessible to anyone with a computer.

    Smart Contracts

    For our purposes, one of the most interesting uses of blockchain technology is the smart contract. Although these contain a set of rules and consequences, just like a traditional contract, it consists of a set of coded instructions that self-perform when certain pre-set criteria are met. In other words, the contract executes itself. Like any blockchain, actions cannot be completed until validated by other participants in the network.

    As an example of how smart contracts work in practice, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and Wells Fargo completed the first cross-border transaction between banks using blockchain technology in 2016. An Australian cotton-trader purchased a shipment of cotton from Texas on a blockchain platform. Ordinarily, this trade would have relied on an import letter of credit between banks to guarantee payment on arrival, which would have taken weeks. However, a smart contract embedded into the blockchain automatically triggered instantaneous payments when the cargo reached certain geographic locations.

    Keeping the law on its toes

    Whilst blockchain and smart contracts are exciting developments for the efficiency of commercial dealings, there may be some significant legal consequences. For example, the uptake of blockchain technology may pose new challenges for companies in complying with applicable data protection laws, with the distributed nature of blockchain making some kinds of data breaches harder to predict, detect and manage.

    More fundamentally, however, the use of smart contracts sits somewhat uncomfortably with some well-established and highly subjective doctrines of contract law, posing novel challenges for lawyers and businesses alike.

    Over the coming months, our blockchain article series will address some of the various legal implications and considerations arising from blockchain use. Although there are some complex challenges ahead, the use of blockchain technology presents some unique and exciting opportunities for businesses, which we will also explore in our upcoming articles.

    If you’d like to discuss how distributed ledger technologies may impact your business, feel free to get in contact with Mark Love in our Business team.

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  • Potato, potahto; tomato, tomahto: an assignment and a novation, the same thing … right?

    Potato, Potahto; Tomato, Tomahto: an assignment and a novation, the same thing - right?

    Okay, you’ve become a party to a contract and that contract requires you to pay money; but then you sell your business (or whatever) and you ‘assign’ the contract â†’ you are free and clear, right? Wrong!

    There are a number of reasons why you might want to transfer part or all of an existing contract to another party; it could be part of a sale of business, the contract might be valuable or you might not be able to perform the work anymore. As part of that process, the terms ‘assignment’ and ‘novation’ are often bandied about interchangeably. Unfortunately, they do not mean the same thing, and it is actually important to understand the difference so you get the outcome you are bargaining for.

    At the most basic level:

    • an ‘assignment’ transfers the rights and benefits of the contract, but does not free you from the obligations; in that respect the original agreement remains unchanged; and
    • a ‘novation’ is where you want to transfer both the rights and obligations under an agreement; it ends both your benefit and your burden (unless the ‘new’ contract (ie; ‘novation’) states otherwise).

    Looking at some of the important differences between the two:

    Assignment

    If you want to keep performing your obligations under the agreement but give away some rights, you should seek an assignment. In simple terms, you cannot ‘assign’ your obligations or liabilities. The original agreement will otherwise remain unchanged and will remain enforceable against you.

    With an assignment, you will remain a party to the agreement and liable for performance under the contract. Even if you have contracted with some other person to perform the contract on your behalf, unless the terms of the original contract require it (including through some implied term that you had been engaged to perform the contract personally), there is typically no requirement to obtain consent of the other parties to achieve an assignment. But there is a requirement to give the other party ‘notice’ of the assignment, so practically speaking most people either seek consent or there are terms drafted into the contract that set out when an assignment is allowed and on what conditions.

    Assignments must be documented in writing to clearly identify what rights are being transferred; they must be unconditional and the assignment, to be effective, must be ‘notified’ to the other contract parties.

    Novation

    If you want to transfer all of your rights and be relieved of all your obligations under a contract (essentially removing yourself from the contract, then you must do so through a ‘novation’. A novation ends the original contract between the original parties, and creates a new contract; this is usually achieved through a single deed of novation. The novation has the effect of substituting one party for another without necessarily changing the rights and obligations under the original contract (although such changes might be agreed).

    For a novation, given you are trying to remove yourself from a contract, consent is an essential element. All parties (new and old) must consent.

    Unlike an assignment, a novation can be in writing or can be oral.

    A court will take into account what the parties have said to each other, their conduct and course of dealings in determining whether there was an agreement to novate or simply and attempt to assign or something altogether different (perhaps a subcontract? or an agency?).

    Proving any form of contract requires clear proof of terms and intention. Proving that there was an oral agreement to ‘novate’ can be a lengthy and expensive process, as the reason you might need such proof will be for reason that the other party refuses to acknowledge that is had agreed to what you are asserting, thus claiming you are still bound by the contract. Proving terms and intention is best done through a written document.

    Similarities

    Both an assignment and a novation will ‘transfer’ rights under a contract. A document might be called ‘an assignment’ but if it seeks to transfer all rights and obligations of a party, to effectively substitute one party for another and if all parties have consented to that substitution, then, despite the name, it may actually be a ‘novation’.

    As you can see, despite the similarities, there are fundamental differences between assigning and novating. Arm yourself with this knowledge before you start the process of ‘assigning’ or ‘novating’ to ensure you are not giving away too little or too much.

    A short example: I have used finance to buy my six tractors; I sell the tractors and assign the finance with the consent of the financier. If the assignment is in not writing, then there is no ‘assignment’ at all. If there is an ‘assignment’, I am still liable to the financier, but now so is the assignee.

    If you have any questions about how an assignment or novation works, please get in touch with our Business team.

     

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  • BAL Estates Team Listing in Doyles Guide 2018

    BAL Estates Team Listings in Doyles Guide 2018

    The 2018 Doyles Guide listing of leading Wills & Estates Litigation and Wills, Estates and Succession Planning lawyers and law firms has just been released and details solicitors and law firms practising within those areas who have been identified by their peers for their expertise and abilities.

    Congratulations to our Estates Team for their 2018 Doyles Guide listings.

    Keith Bradley AM

    • Preeminent, Wills & Estates Litigation Lawyers – Canberra
    • Leading, Wills, Estates & Succession Planning Lawyers – Canberra
    • Recommended, Wills & Estates Litigation lawyers – Australia

    David Toole

    • Recommended, Wills & Estates Litigation Lawyers – Canberra
    • Recommended, Wills, Estates & Succession Planning Lawyers – Canberra

    Golnar Nekoee

    • Recommended, Wills & Estates Litigation Lawyers – Canberra
    • Recommended, Wills, Estates & Succession Planning Lawyers – Canberra

    Ellen Bradley

    • Rising Star, Wills, Estates & Succession Planning – Australia

    BAL Lawyers has been listed as a First Tier Firm in Wills & Estates Litigation Law Firms and Wills, Estates & Succession Planning Firms – Canberra.

    Full listings for all categories can be found here.

    Our Estates Team take a holistic approach to estate planning, considering your broader personal, family and financial circumstances to ensure your wealth is passed onto the people you wish to benefit in an efficient and tax-effective way.

    If we can assist you with a making a will, appointing a power of attorney, estate litigation or helping you set up a business succession plan, please contact us.

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  • Business Breakfast Club - Illegal Phoenix Activity

    Business Breakfast Club September Summary - The Phoenix and the Regulators: A Liquidators Perspective

    This month at Business Breakfast Club, Lachlan Abbott and Fergus McFarlane of Ernst & Young provided the liquidator’s perspective on legal and illegal phoenix activity. Owing to growing concerns around phoenix activity there has been an increase in regulatory attempts to deter and disrupt illegal phoenix activity.

    What is Phoenix Activity?

    Phoenix activity involves registering a new company to take over the failed or insolvent business of a predecessor company. This is legitimate where there is genuine company failure and liquidation. Directors may responsibly manage a company, but the company may be unable to pay its debts. If the directors then hand the insolvent company over to a liquidator and register a new company after liquidation to continue the previous business, this will constitute legal phoenix activity.

    What is Illegal Phoenix Activity?

    Phoenix activity involves registering a new company to take over the failed or insolvent business of a predecessor company. This may constitute a legitimate business restructure where there is genuine company failure and the assets are sold at market value and in the best interests of creditors

    Directors may responsibly manage a company, but the company may still be unable to pay its debts. If the directors then hand the insolvent company over to a reputable liquidator and the assets are sold at or above market value (before or after liquidation) this would normally constitute legal phoenix activity, even if the assets are sold to a related party.

    Regulatory Approaches for Reform

    In the 2018-19 Budget, the Government announced several proposed reforms to corporations and tax laws to deter and disrupt illegal phoenix activity. The draft legislation includes reforms to:

    • make it an offence for directors to engage in transfers of company assets that prevent, hinder or significantly delay creditors’ access to those assets;
    • make it an offence for pre-insolvency advisers and other facilitators of illegal phoenix activity to incite, induce or encourage a company to make these creditor-defeating transfers of company assets;
    • prevent directors from backdating their resignations to avoid personal liability;
    • prevent sole directors resigning and leaving a company with no director;
    • extend the director penalty provisions to make directors personally liable for their company’s GST and related liabilities;
    • expand the ATO’s powers to retain refunds where there are outstanding tax lodgements;
    • introduce a Director Identification Number (DIN) to allow enforcement agencies to verify and track the current and historical relationships between directors and the entities they are associated with; and
    • restrict the voting rights of related creditors of the phoenix operator at meetings regarding the appointment or removal and replacement of an external administrator.
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  • Baiting Buyers The Risks of Underquoting in the ACT

    Baiting Buyers: The Risks of Underquoting in the ACT

    You’d be hard pressed to find a real estate agent who is unfamiliar with the term ‘underquoting’. Indeed the practice of underquoting has become a significant problem in NSW and Victoria, where the average difference between the sale price and the agent’s quote in some suburbs can be as much as 30%.[1] Thankfully, the practice of agents deliberately undervaluing the selling price of a property to ‘bait’ buyers has been relatively infrequent in the ACT, although not without precedent.[2] It is in such a climate of high scrutiny being placed on agents however that you must be aware of the potential penalties of underquoting.

    The current law in the ACT

    Real estate agents in the ACT who underquote the likely sale price of a residential property face liability under two statutory regimes: the Agents Act 2003 (ACT) and the Australian Consumer Law, found in Schedule 2 of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth). Interestingly, these statutory regimes could also apply to an agent over quoting the sale price of a Property.

    The Agents Act 2003 makes it an offence for an agent to make a statement about the agent’s business which is false or misleading or to make a dishonest representation (to the Seller or the Buyer) about the agent’s estimate of the selling price of the property. These offences apply to any advertisement published by an agent and cast a wide net in capturing potential dishonest conduct. There are also significant penalties for a breach, being 100 penalty units ($15,000 for an individual or $75,000 for a corporation).

    This is supplemented by the misleading and deceptive conduct provisions of the Australian Consumer Law, which make it an offence to engage in misleading and deceptive conduct in the course of trade and commerce (including a specific offence which applies this to conduct in connection with the sale of an interest in land). The potential penalties for being found to have engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct include fines of up to $220,000 for an individual and $1.1 million for a corporation.

    In addition to this, agents face a potential disqualification under the Agents Act 2003 should the offence be sufficiently serious.

    Cracking down – the response to underquoting in NSW and Victoria

    Despite similar penalties being present, in recent years NSW and Victoria have introduced legislative reforms imposing more comprehensive obligations on agents when estimating selling prices and harsher penalties for those who make misrepresentations. Although these types of reforms have not yet been introduced in the ACT, they may be on the agenda of the Legislative Assembly.

    In NSW, agents are now required to keep records substantiating selling price estimates and are prohibited from publishing an indication of the sale price less than the estimated selling price for the property (this even extends to advertisements that indicate a sale price of ‘offers above’ or use similar words or symbols). Similar restrictions apply in Victoria, where agents are also required to prepare a statement of information (taking into account at least three properties considered most comparable) available for inspection by prospective buyers.

    Conclusion

    While the current ACT regime provides for significant penalties should agents be found to have made false or dishonest representations in underquoting the selling price of a property, legislative amendments in other Australia jurisdictions pose the possibility that a more direct and stricter regime may be legislated in the ACT in the near future. Property agents should ensure that they are aware of these implications.

    [1] https://news.realas.com/underquoting-frustrating-home-buyers/

    [2] See http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/canberra-real-estate-agent-investigated-for-underquoting-20180412-p4z94y.html

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