Judgment Search

Exhumations

Display:

Two Faculty Petitions, each seeking exhumation of cremated remains from an area where access was difficult for an elderly relative, and reinterment in a more accessible location about six feet away. Faculty refused in each case, the Chancellor being unable to find sufficient justification to grant a Faculty within the guidelines set out in the Court of Arches decision in Re Blagdon, but suggesting that the memorials might be moved to the alternative locations, so as to provide easier access and so that the elderly relatives could choose for their own cremated remains to be interred in due course either in the graves of their loved ones or beneath the newly moved memorials.

The petitioner, who was aged 81 and used a wheelchair, found access to her mother’s grave in Gunton churchyard very difficult, as the grave was a good way back from the churchyard path. She therefore applied for a faculty to authorise the exhumation of her mother’s remains and re-interment in a nearby cemetery. The Chancellor, after considering the principles laid down in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299, determined that no special reasons existed which would justify an exception to the norm of permanence of Christian burial.

The Chancellor, taking into account the guidance in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002], determined that there were special reasons for permitting exhumation and reinterment. The cremated remains of the father of the three petitioning children had been buried in a parish churchyard. At the time it was intended that his wife's cremated remains should be placed with his. When his wife died, the children found that her will said that she wished to be buried in a family grave in a cemetery. They mistakenly felt obliged to comply with the terms of the will, but this defeated the original intention of the mother and the father to be buried together. After the second burial the children regretted not having buried their parents together and made a fairly prompt application to rectify the situation. Accordingly, the Chancellor allowed the cremated remains of the father to be exhumed and reinterred in the family grave in the cemetery.

The Chancellor found that there were special circumstances (as set out in the judgment) which justified him in granting a faculty for exhumation and reinterment in the same churchyard. The petitioner wished to move the cremated remains of his father to the grave of his mother, who had died recently and who had expressed a wish before her death to have her body buried and for her husband's cremated remains to be moved into the same grave, not realising that there could be difficulties in carrying out her wishes.

The cremated remains of a father and his son had been interred in adjacent plots. When the mother died, her cremated remains were interred (due to the error of the burial authority which maintained the churchyard) in the grave of her son, rather than with the remains of her husband, as had been her wish. The next of kin proposed that the exhumation of the remains of the father and reinterment in the grave of his wife and son would be preferable to the exhumation of the remains of the mother and reinterment with the remains of her husband. The Chancellor granted a faculty on this basis: "This is an appropriate and desirable result creating as it does a family grave containing the remains of all three members of that family."

The Chancellor refused to grant a faculty to allow the petitioner's father's cremated remains to be exhumed and scattered with the petitioner's mother's cremated remains at Skerray in northern Scotland. The petitioner's mother had said before she died that she felt she had made a mistake in having her husband's remains interred at the church and felt it more appropriate for the ashes of both of them to be scattered at Skerray, a place which had meant much to them during their lives. Following the guidelines laid down in the Court of Arches decision in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299, the Chancellor stated that a change of mind as to a place of interment was not an exceptional circumstance which might justify exhumation. Also, the scattering of ashes would be contrary to the church's duty to protect interred remains, so that, once exhumed, they should be reinterred intact.

The Chancellor refused to grant a faculty for exhumation. The petitioner wished to exhume the recently interred cremated remains of her husband from the churchyard and reinter them in her garden. The petitioner said that she had had differences with the vicar and for that reason she found it painful and distressing to visit her husband's grave. The Chancellor did not regard these circumstances sufficiently exceptional to justify the grant of a faculty.

The petitioner wished to have the remains of her father ("the deceased") exhumed from the grave immediately next to the grave of his second wife and reinterred in the grave of the deceased's first wife, which grave also contained the remains of the deceased's parents, in order that a new memorial bearing the names of all four members of the family could then be put on the grave. The Chancellor ruled that there were no special circumstances which would justify the grant of a faculty. It appeared that before his death the deceased believed that there was no room for him to be buried in the same grave as his first wife and parents and was content to be buried elsewhere in the churchyard. His second wife died shortly after the deceased from a terminal illness, and it was assumed that they would naturally wish to be buried together after 28 years' marriage. Moreover, 25 years had passed since the deceased's death, and there was no explanation as to why an application had not been made earlier.

The petitioner wished to have the cremated remains of his father exhumed from one plot in the cemetery and reinterred in another plot with the cremated remains of his recently deceased mother. The reasons given for the application were: (1) the petitioner's father's burial plot was close to the entrance of the cemetery, and when members of the family visited the plot, all other people visiting the cemetery would be passing by them; (2) there was no convenient seat at which to sit and reflect; and (3) the plot was next to a gully cover. The Chancellor was satisfied that the petitioner genuinely found the location of the plot unsuitable, but he could not find any exceptional reason to justify exhumation.

The Chancellor granted a faculty to authorise the exhumation of cremated remains, so that they could be reinterred in the same grave at a greater depth, in order to allow the interment above them of the cremated remains of another member of the family.