Walsall council ban on cemetery borders and flowerbeds challenged

A Muslim man is mounting a legal challenge over a prohibition on edging, or borders, around individual graves in his local cemetery, saying that the ban breaches his right to freedom of religion.

Atta Ul-Haq has been granted permission for a judicial review of Walsall council’s policy on the basis that it is a matter of public interest.

Ul-Haq’s father was buried in the Muslim section of Streetly cemetery in Walsall in 2015. Newer sections of the cemetery are “lawn only”, the graves marked only with headstones and not surrounded by borders. Edgings and flowerbeds have been prohibited apart from in a section that has children’s graves.

The policy has triggered protests by members of the Muslim community because the Islamic faith forbids people from stepping on a person’s grave.

Soon after his father’s burial, Ul-Haq failed to get permission from the council to erect a small marble edging of up to four inches high around the grave to prevent people walking across it.

Natalia Gracia, of Fountains solicitors, acting for Ul-Haq, said: “The court has granted permission for a judicial review on the basis that it is a matter of public interest as it is arguable that Walsall council’s cemetery policy breaches article 9 of the European convention on human rights, which covers freedom of religion.

“This is because the policy prohibits edging around graves in the lawn area which is reserved for Muslim burials. There is therefore nothing to prevent my client’s father’s grave from being traversed by foot or maintenance machinery, which is against my client’s beliefs.”

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According to Garcia, the legal challenge has implications beyond Muslim burials. “The [Muslim] community has been campaigning on this issue for more than 10 years. But there are plenty of people of other faiths and no faiths that are unhappy with this policy,” she said.

The council said it needed to maintain cemeteries in good order and its prohibition on grave edgings was made clear in its terms and conditions. The council said: “[The council] notes the judge’s decision to uphold a request to review its lawn graves policy and will follow due process accordingly. The council is confident its policy is lawful.”

In August 2016, more than 100 people protested about the council’s demand that unauthorised edgings and flowerbeds be removed within 28 days. At the time, the council: “[We follow] the widely accepted lawn principle for new graves, which is similar to war graves, that consist of straight rows of headstones and a lawn of flat grass. The majority of people will understand there needs to be proper management of the regulations in place, which need to be observed to prevent these places of remembrance from becoming disorganised and chaotic.”

According to the council’s website, new graves are only available on the lawn headstone sections. The separate baby and children section still allows edging and flowerbeds.

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