Exhumation means the removal of human remains, including cremated remains, from any burial place. Bodies may be exhumed for a number of reasons: to identify a body, to transfer human remains from one grave to another, to cremate a body, to recover jewellery, documents or other artefacts, to hold an inquest or to enable building schemes to proceed. It is illegal to disturb buried human remains without lawful authority. This applies to both bodies and cremated remains buried beneath ground level.
You may request an exhumation if you are:
- The personal representative of the deceased
- The local authority
- The incumbent of the church
- The Department for Transport
The Coroner may also order an exhumation of the remains of a person who is buried within their district where it appears necessary for the body to be examined. This may be for the purpose of holding an inquest into the person’s death or for any criminal proceedings in respect of the death. A Coroner’s warrant to exhume would be required to legally permit the exhumation to proceed.
For unconsecrated ground, a licence from the Ministry of Justice is required for exhumation.
Where the grave lies in ground consecrated according to the rites of the Church of England, a Bishop’s Faculty will be required. For Brighton & Hove, the Diocese of Chichester has responsibility for this.
Reburial or repatriation
Bodies and cremated remains can be reburied.
Where the exhumed remains are to be repatriated and taken out of the country, additional arrangements will need to be made. These involve the Coroner and the Embassy Consular Office (the Foreign & Commonwealth Office can assist in locating a British Consulate and also provide helpful information about deaths abroad). The receiving country, a funeral director and the relevant airline or shipper will also need to be involved with the arrangements.
Cremation of exhumed remains
If exhumed remains are to be cremated, appropriate documentation must be provided to the crematorium, dependant upon the duration between the original burial and exhumation.
Commonwealth War Graves
If an exhumation is required from a Commonwealth War Grave then, in addition to the legal requirements previously mentioned, permission must also be sought from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Additional information or advice on any aspect of exhumation is available from Bereavement Services. Input from an Environmental Health Officer, a funeral director and a member of the clergy may also be necessary to ensure the exhumation proceeds in accordance with the conditions required by the licence which authorises the exhumation.