It is generally quite rare for a body to be exhumed, and the process is usually traumatic for the family involved. It can take a long time to make arrangements to exhume a deceased body and it is usually expensive. For these reasons, it is always best to consult with all the relatives before proceeding.
What are the reasons to exhume a body?
There are a number of reasons to exhume a body. These include:
- Moving the body from the original grave to a family plot acquired at a later date in the same or another cemetery
- Transfer from one cemetery scheduled for development to another
- Court orders requiring further forensic examination
What are the requirements needed to exhume a body?
You need to apply for an exhumation licence to remove human remains from the ground. The licence will contain certain conditions that have to be observed.
If the person is buried in consecrated grounds, the church must give permission for it to be exhumed. Consecrated ground is ground that is ‘dedicated to the service of God according to the right of the Church of England’. The term consecration means to be ‘set apart, or separated, for use by the Lord’. The permission from the church is often in the form of a Bishop’s Faculty.
It is an offence to exhume any human remains without the necessary lawful permissions. The Burial Authority that runs the cemetery, or a Funeral Director, can help in obtaining these.
Occasionally, cadaver certificates are required in addition to exhumation licences.
Decency and safety
An Environmental Health Officer must be present when the body is exhumed. They will supervise the event to ensure that:
- There is respect for the deceased person
- There is no risk to public health
- The correct grave is opened
- The body is exhumed as early as possible in the morning to ensure maximum privacy
- There is appropriate screening around the plot for privacy
- Health and safety standards are met. All workers must wear protective clothing including masks and gloves, task lights and all other necessary equipment
- Everyone present shows due respect to the deceased person and to adjoining graves
- The nameplate on the casket corresponds to that on the licence
- The new casket is satisfactory
- All human remains and all the pieces of coffin/casket are placed in the new coffin/casket
- The new casket is properly sealed
- The area of exhumation is properly disinfected
- Satisfactory arrangements are in place for the onward transmission of the remains
Also present will be someone from the Burial Authority that runs the cemetery. The Burial Authority Officer and the Environmental Health Officer will, between them, ensure that:
The exhumation may not proceed if:
- The conditions of the licence cannot be met
- There are public health or decency concerns
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