Justice chancellor: Municipalities responsible for cemetery grave stones

Reopalu graveyard in Paide.
Reopalu graveyard in Paide. Source: Olev Kenk / ERR

A trend for local governments to secede ownership of headstones, grave markers and the like, in municipal cemeteries, to others, goes against current Estonian law, Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise says.

The chancellor as a result recommends local governments and ministries agree on whether or not it is necessary to amend the relevant legislation.

Since the paraphernalia lies on municipal land, managed by local government, that makes it local government property and responsibility, she added.

According to Madise, they cannot be transferred to someone else's property by a council decree. "Neither the Cemetery Act nor any other law gives the council such a right," Madise noted.

Madise said: "Among the provisions of the rules on the use of cemeteries, it can be concluded, among other things, that most rural and town municipalities have no desire to become the owners of burial facilities and markers permanently connected to the municipal land."

However: "In the course of resolving applications submitted to the Chancellor of Justice, it has become clear that, according to the rules of use at most municipal cemeteries, grave constructions and markers installed on the graveyard are to be considered the property of the graveyard user," Madise noted, not least since councils have starting them this ownership.

Given the nature of the land-use, the chancellor called for sensitivity in proceeding.

"The principles of legal peace and clarity, the need to keep in mind any situation arising from the repeal of illegal provisions, and the social sensitivity of the issue of cemeteries, should guide any such solution," the Chancellor of Justice added.

The majority of municipalities have indeed come to see headstones, grave markers and the like as the "users'" property, ERR reports, presumably referring to the families or wards of those interred rather than the interred themselves.

Madise has as a result appealed to the justice ministry and finance ministry, along with the Association of Estonian Cities and Municipalities (Eesti Linnade ja Valdade Liit) to discuss property rights issues related to graveyards and memorials, including the rights and obligations associated with the use of a cemetery.

The chancellor is awaiting a response from those bodies by nest month.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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