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Exhumations

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The petitioner's father had been buried in the churchyard in 1982. In 1983, the petitioner's mother obtained a faculty reserving the grave next to her husband, as the stony nature of the ground had not permitted the digging of a double depth grave for the two of them. When the petitioner's mother died in 2015, it was found that another burial had encroached on the reserved grave, so that it was not possible for the petitioner's mother to be buried in the grave she had reserved. Her body was buried in a nearby grave. The petitioner, after some delay, applied for a faculty to authorise the exhumation of his father's body and for it to be reinterred in a grave next to that of the petitioner's mother. The Chancellor was satisfied that a mistake had been made and, notwithstanding the delay by the petitioner in presenting a petition, the Chancellor granted a faculty for the exhumation and reinterment

In the severe winter of 1980/81, the petitioner's father died. The churchyard being deep in snow, the parish priest recommended cremation followed by interment of the ashes in a sheltered spot by the church. The petitioner's mother died in June 2018, aged 102, and in accordance with her wishes her body had been buried in the churchyard. The petitioner now wished to have her father's ashes exhumed and interred in her mother's grave. The Chancellor decided that the circumstance in which the petitioner's father's remains had been interred, combined with her mother's expressed hope that her husband’s remains could in due course be moved so that she and he could be in the same plot, amounted to exceptional circumstances allowing him to grant a faculty for exhumation.

The Petitioner wished to have the cremated remains of her parents-in-law exhumed from the churchyard of the now redundant church at Brownsover and reinterred in the churchyard where her late husband's remains were interred. The Chancellor refused to grant a faculty, as he could find no exceptional reason to justify him in doing so. In particular, he said that the fact that the churchyard at Brownsover was currently largely overgrown, was not a sufficient reason to justify the grant of a faculty.

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 October 2020, it was noticed that a grave containing the remains of a local couple had been disturbed, suggesting an additional interment without lawful authority, namely, the interment of the ashes of the couple's son, who had taken his own life two years earlier following the breakdown of his marriage. The incumbent applied for exhumation of the cremated remains, as they had been unlawfully interred, and the deceased’s four siblings applied for custody of the remains, so that they could be interred in land where the deceased had wished his remains to be interred. The deceased’s widow denied that her husband's ashes had been interred in the grave, and refused to attend the hearing. On the basis of the evidence at the hearing, the Chancellor was satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that the ashes interred were those of the deceased sibling and she granted a faculty for exhumation and for custody of the ashes to pass to the surviving siblings for reinterment.

The Chancellor granted a faculty for the exhumation of the mortal remains of the baby son of one of the petitioners and reinterment in Ireland. The baby had lived less than three months. The family had lived in Ireland for 20 years and had a double grave plot reserved in their local churchyard, which could accommodate six burials. The father was suffering from terminal cancer and wished to be buried with his child in the family plot. For this and other reasons, the Chancellor found that there were exceptional circumstances to justify the grant of a faculty.

The petitioner's mother died in a motor accident in 2000. The petitioner's father had been in such a state of shock that he had left it to a family friend to arrange the funeral. Notwithstanding that the father and his three daughters were all atheists, the family friend arranged for burial in the consecrated churchyard at Charlwood. Each member of the family had never been happy with this and had only recently found it possible to discuss the matter together. They now wished the mother's body to be exhumed and cremated, and the ashes scattered elsewhere. The Deputy Chancellor considered the guiding principles laid down in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299 and concluded that this was an exceptional case where exhumation should be allowed: " ... I am persuaded that there was a fundamental mistake of intention in this case ... For a family of conscientious atheists, Christian burial was not the right choice. The daughters have tried very hard to honour and make sense of their mother’s memory through the medium of her grave, but they reached a point whereby the thing which should provide some solace was doing the opposite."

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 cremated remains of a child who died within hours of a premature birth in the 1980s had been interred in the churchyard. The petitioners (the father of the child and his three daughters) wished to have the remains exhumed with a view to them being reinterred in the father's garden. The father's wife had expressed a wish before her death to be buried in the garden with the remains of her deceased child. The Chancellor could find no justification for allowing the exhumation and reinterment of the child's remains as proposed, but he granted a faculty authorising exhumation, provided that permission could be obtained for the remains of the child and both parents to be interred in the churchyard of the church where the mother's funeral had been conducted or in some other consecrated ground.

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.