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Request an exhumation

Overview

The death of a loved one is an emotional and difficult time for family and friends of the deceased. Unfortunately in rare occasions it is necessary for the remains of the deceased person to be removed from the grave.

Some of the reasons why exhumation can happen are;

  • The family request to remove the remains to a different plot in the same cemetery or a different cemetery altogether
  • The family request to repatriate the remains overseas
  • The family request to cremate the remains
  • A court order requires the remains to be exhumed for forensic examination.

In accordance with the Burial Act 1857, it is a criminal offence to exhume or disturb remains without first holding the appropriate license. These controls were introduced to prevent ‘grave robbing’ and to protect public health.

Before an exhumation is carried out, you must apply for a license. Further information is provided below on the different types of licenses. Alternatively you can contact your cemetery bereavement officer for further information on the appropriate licenses and permits required.

Essential Information
  • Prior to an exhumation taking place you need to get the appropriate licence. The licence required will depend on where the remains are currently buried and where the remains will be re-interred. Licences include:

    • A licence issued by the Secretary of State for Justice
    • A Bishop’s faculty
    • A cadaver certificate


  • Under the Burial Act 1857 an environmental officer must be present at the exhumation and supervise the event to ensure that public health is protected and respect is maintained for the deceased person.

    The environmental officer will ensure:

    • the correct grave is opened
    • the exhumation commences as early as possible in the morning to ensure maximum privacy
    • the excavation is screened in the interests of privacy
    • measures to protect the health, safety and welfare of all workers are in place, such as protective clothing, masks, gloves and lighting
    • everyone present shows due respect to the deceased person and to any adjoining graves
    • the nameplate on the casket corresponds to that on the licence and/or the Bishop's faculty
    • the new casket has been approved by the environmental health officer
    • all remains and all the pieces of casket are placed in the new casket
    • the new casket is properly sealed and identifiable
    • the area of exhumation is properly disinfected
    • satisfactory arrangements are in place for the onward transfer of the remains.

    If conditions in the license are not met and the environmental officer is not satisfied with the above or public health is at risk, the exhumation may not proceed.

Frequently Asked Questions
    • An exhumation is the removal of human remains, including cremated remains, from any place of burial.

      For clarification- A license is needed to remove any human remains that have been buried or committed to the ground. This applies whether the deceased had been buried in a coffin, or their ashes committed to the ground following cremation.


      • 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 a first or a subsequent inquest at the request of the coroner
      • To enable building schemes to proceed
      • The personal representative of the deceased
      • The coroner
      • The local authority
      • The incumbent of the church
      • The Department for Transport

    • Consecrated ground is land that has been dedicated to the service of God according to the rites of the church.

    • Initial enquiries should be made with the Registrar at the cemetery where the remains are currently interred. They will be able to give you advice on what licence/s you will require prior to an exhumation. Alternatively, visit the Ministry of Justice website for further information.


    • Currently there is no cost to secure a licence.

    • If you haven't been able to find the information that you need then the link below will take you to a form that you can use to ask us further questions.


      Service Specific Enquiry
Attachments
attached document Ministry of justice: exhuming remains
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