What is exhumation?
Exhumation means the removal from the ground of a body or cremated remains. It also covers the disturbance of remains within a grave, particularly when a grave is re-opened for burial.
It is unlawful to disturb any human remains without first obtaining the necessary legal authority. This includes any cremated remains.
From time to time, due to varying circumstances exhumations may be necessary. Exhumations are generally rare and tend to be traumatic for the family involved. They can take a long time to arrange and are usually expensive. For these reasons, it is always best to consult with all the relatives before proceeding.
What happens at the exhumation?
An environmental health officer and cemeteries officer can be present at the exhumation. They will supervise the event to ensure that:
- the correct grave is opened
- the exhumation commences as early as possible in the morning to ensure maximum privacy
- the plot is screened (if necessary) as appropriate for privacy
- health and safety of all workers is maintained - 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 has been approved
- all human remains and all the pieces of casket are placed in the new 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
If the conditions of the licence cannot be met, or there are public health or decency concerns, the exhumation may not proceed. All exhumation applications and requests are dealt with individually.
For further advice or help please contact the manager at Easthampstead Park Cemetery and Crematorium.
The cost of an exhumation can be substantial, so the financial implications should be clearly established from the outset. It is very difficult to give precise details. Although there is no fee for a Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) licence, you must remember to include:
- memorial removal costs
- funeral director’s charges including the cost of a new coffin or cremated remains casket
- cemetery fees and charges for exhumation and re-interment
Exhumation of both buried and cremated remains requires a licence from the Ministry of Justice. You can find out more and apply for a licence on the GOV.UK - Ministry of Justice website.
If the remains are in consecrated ground then permission must be obtained from the Diocesan Court.