Exhuming a body
From time to time, due to varying circumstances, it may be necessary to move the remains of an individual from a grave. This process is called exhumation.
Exhumation means the removal from the ground of a body or cremated human remains. It also covers the disturbance of remains within a grave, particularly when a grave is re-opened for burial. It is important to understand that it is unlawful to disturb ANY human remains (this also includes any cremated remains) without first obtaining the necessary legal authority.
There are many applications per year to exhume human remains for varying reasons. Relatives may wish to move a body from a grave to another family grave or vault in the same or a different cemetery or to be cremated. Other personal family reasons might include repatriation overseas. A coroner, by warrant, may also order an exhumation.
Whatever the reason, it is a traumatic occurrence for all those involved and should only be considered after carefully thinking through the whole process and getting as much information as possible from all the relevant authorities before proceeding. You may also need to discuss the issues with other members of your family.
To exhume human remains, you must first apply for either a Bishop's Faculty or a Secretary of State's Licence. The application may be made by a funeral director, acting on behalf of the deceased’s family – although a family member or other representative can also apply.
Within burial grounds, the land is termed either Consecrated or Unconsecrated. The term "Consecrated" means dedicated to the service of God according to the rites of the Church of England. A Bishop of the Church of England carries out consecration of land.
If human remains are to be exhumed from a grave in consecrated ground, you will need to apply for a Bishop's Faculty.
If an exhumation is to be carried out from unconsecrated ground a Secretary of State's Licence is needed.
Obtaining a Bishop's Faculty
A Bishop's Faculty can be obtained by petition to the Registrar of the Church of England Diocese for the area where the deceased is interred. The person seeking the Faculty may obtain a petition from either from the Diocesan Registry or the Burial Authority. Once completed, they send it directly to the Diocesan Registry. The address can be found in the Crockford's Clerical Directory. There may be a charge for the application, which can take four to six weeks to be processed. The Chancellors are very particular that there should be sufficient grounds for an exhumation, and not all applications are approved.
Obtaining a Secretary of State's Licence
You can apply for a Secretary of State's Licence from the Ministry of Justice, Coroners and Burials Division, 102 Petty France, London SW1H 9AJ.
Telephone: 020 3334 6390
Fax: 020 3334 6452
The person seeking the exhumation may obtain a form either from the Ministry of Justice directly or from the Burial Authority. The licence, if granted, will normally be sent to the person applying for the exhumation.
A Licence application can often be processed quite quickly. The Burial Authority that administers the cemetery where the deceased is buried must complete Part B of the application form. The Authority will examine its statutory records to ensure details are correct and there are no objections to the exhumation taking place in the cemetery. The form will then be signed by the cemetery manager and will be forwarded to the Ministry of Justice. Written authorisation must also be sent from the Cremation Authority if the remains are to be cremated after being exhumed.
Generally speaking, the written permission of the owner of the exclusive rights to the grave will be required to authorise an exhumation. In addition, permission of the next of kin of the deceased to be exhumed will also be necessary.
Where it is necessary to disturb other human remains in order to carry out an exhumation, the written permission of the next of kin of each person so disturbed must normally be obtained.
If Chesterfield Borough Council owns the cemetery, approval must also be obtained from the Burial Authority (Bereavement Services).
What happens next?
Once you have obtained all the licences, you will need to forward these onto the Burial Authority where the deceased is interred.
Arrangements can then be made to carry out the exhumation and ensure that if any of the licences have special conditions listed these are fully considered. Contact should also be made with all those involved with the pending exhumation, this may be the funeral director, the burial authorities, a minister of religion for the re-interment and other family members to ensure that family wishes are adhered to.
A copy of the Secretary of State's Licence will be automatically sent to the area’s Environmental Health Department, so they can ensure the safety of public health. Exhumations are generally carried out early in the morning to ensure maximum privacy and an Environmental Health Officer for the Local Authority will be in attendance along with a Funeral Director and Council Bereavement Services staff. If a Bishop’s Faculty is issued then they will also contact the Environmental Health Department.
There is normally some discussion between all attending parties about how the exhumation will take place and what equipment is required.
As soon as reasonably practical after any disinterment, the officer of the burial authority will complete the statutory records to state:
- the date of disinterment
- the number of the grave
- the name of the person whose remains are disinterred
- where the remains have be re-interred or cremated
The cost of an exhumation can be substantial, so the financial implications should be clearly established at the outset. It is very difficult to give precise details. Remember to include, for example:
- memorial removal costs
- Bishop's Faculty fees – there is no fee from the Ministry of Justice for the issue of an exhumation licence
- funeral director's charges, including the cost of a new coffin or cremated remains casket
- cemetery fees and charges for exhumation and re-interment
All exhumations, applications and requests are dealt with individually and further detailed information can be obtained from the crematorium office. If you have any queries on exhumation within the Chesterfield area or you need more detailed independent advice, please contact the bereavement services manager at:
Chesterfield and District Crematorium
Telephone: 01246 345112