Ecclesiastical Law Association

Ecclesiastical Law Association

Judgments: Exhumations

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Petition for exhumation refused. Family conflict would not be settled by allowing exhumation.

The cremated remains of a member of the family concerned in this matter had recently been interred in her parents' grave. The interment had been arranged by certain members of the family, who did not discuss the location of the interment with other members of the family, who, as it turned out, objected to the last deceased being interred in her parents' grave, and they applied for a faculty for exhumation. The Chancellor ruled that the interment should not have taken place in the parents' grave without the agreement of all of the next of kin, and accordingly granted a faculty for exhumation and reinterment elsewhere.

Faculty for exhumation granted, due to exceptional circumstances (following guidance in Re Blagdon), namely, medical reasons.

Faculty granted for the exhumation of cremated remains and their reinterment in a family grave in the nearby cemetery, even though the remains had not been interred in a casket, but poured into a hole in the ground.

The petitioner's mother had died in 1991 and the family had had no choice but to follow the then policy of the PCC to have cremated remains interred close together in a double row with memorial tablets touching adjacent ones. Some years later the PCC changed its policy in an area where cremation plots were wider and interments were marked by upright stones. The petitioner's father did not like the area where his wife had been interred as the area looked paved, which he thought unseemly. He had arranged before he died in 2017 for his own remains to be interred in the new area. The petitioner wished to have his mother's cremated remains moved to his father's grave. The Chancellor decided that the combination of three circumstances - the family's unhappiness about the interment in 1991, the change in policy of the PCC, and the creation of a family grave by placing the wife's remains with those of her husband - justified him in granting a faculty.

In 2008, a faculty had been granted for the demolition of a building in the churchyard and the construction of an extension to the church, which had necessitated the exhumation of 154 sets of skeletal remains (the ‘Fewston Assemblage’) which were removed from the graveyard during excavations for the erection of the Washburn Heritage Centre. A new petition was presented in 2016, seeking authority to reinter the skeletal remains in the churchyard and the erection of three memorials to record the reinterments. Whilst noting that the petitioners in 2008 should have applied for a Ministry of Justice licence, as the remains had not immediately been reinterred in consecrated ground, the Chancellor granted a faculty for the reinterment of the Fewston Assemblage and the erection of the three proposed memorials.

Interments of two family members had taken place in the same grave in 2012 and 2013. After the second interment there had been only a foot of earth over the second coffin, and in the course of time the second coffin had become exposed. An application was made for a faculty to authorise the exhumation of both coffins from the family grave and for re-interment of both coffins in the same grave in another part of the churchyard. The Chancellor determined that there were special circumstances to justify him permitting both coffins to be exhumed (even though the first coffin could have been left in situ with a sufficient covering of earth) and for them both to be re-interred in a new family grave.

The Chancellor determined that exceptional circumstances existed to justify the proposed exhumation of the cremated remains of a young man from the churchyard in Kenilworth for reinterment in the same grave as his late parents (or in the next grave) in a churchyard in Norfolk, the Chancellor noting similarities between the circumstamces in this case and those in the case of Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299.

A mother wished to have her son's body exhumed from the churchyard of St. Patrick Earlswood and reinterred in a churchyard in Ireland, where she now lived. Here reason for the request was that if her son;s body remained in England, she would have difficulty in visiting and tending the grave regularly. The Chancellor refused to grant a faculty. The petitioner had not shown any exceptional circumstances to justify the grant of a faculty.