Taoist hall asks court to declare it religious, to house human ashes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 December, 2012, 3:59am

A Taoist hall asked a court to declare it a religious institute, so it could serve as a repository for human ashes.

Hong Dao Tong said in court filings that the lease for its site in Yiu Wing Street, Kwai Chung, did not prohibit the storage of "ashes resulting from the cremation of human remains". That was despite a condition of its lease , shown in land-registry filings , that no "human remains" were allowed on the lot in earthenware jars without the government's consent.

Information provided by the Development Bureau also showed the site was not allowed to be used as a columbarium under its lease. Under the Kwai Chung zoning plan, the site was designated for business use.

Hong Dao Tong asked the High Court to declare it a religious institution as defined by the Town Planning Board. According to the board, religious institutions include ancestral halls, shrines, churches and premises of similar natures.

According to its website, Hong Dao Tong was a Taoist institute in a single-storey building that provided 26,000 spaces for storing human ashes, with some of the spaces selling for more than HK$200,000. It also performed Taoist rituals for a fee.

Records showed Hong Dao Tong was linked to Lai Sun Development chairman Peter Lam Kin-ngok. It sat on the site of an outdoor car park formerly occupied by an industrial building.

Hong Dao Tong's court action came after the Court of Appeal in June threw out a challenge from a Yuen Long operator of a human-ash repository that it was a shrine rather than a columbarium, and that it was therefore not subject to planning rules.

The appeal court ruled that although Hong Kong Life Group called itself a "shrine" it was in fact a columbarium. The operator's failed argument was that it was a shrine because an element of worship was involved.