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Alphabetical Index of all judgments on this web site as at 1 October 2022

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Exhumations

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The petitioner was a world-renowned influenza virologist with a particular interest in the 1918 Spanish Influenza strain, a type of avian influenza. In view of the concern in 2007 regarding the avian H5N1 virus, the petitioner wished to exhume the body of Sir Mark Sykes, who had died from Spanish Influenza in Paris in 1919. Samples from previous victims of the 1918 disease had been of insufficient quality for the petitioner's current research to try to ascertain how the 1918 virus spread in the body, which might help in research to find better clinical treatment for avian viruses. The fact that Sir Mark had been buried at Sledmere in a sealed lead coffin raised the likelihood of better samples being found for the petitioner's research. The Chancellor granted a faculty. The prospect of finding a way of combatting the H5N1 virus would be of public benefit and was a sufficiently exceptional reason to displace the normal presumption against exhumation. 

The petitioner wished to exhume the cremated remains of her mother and reinter them in the same churchyard with the remains of her father. It had been intended that the plot into which the petitioner's mother's remains had been interred should have been a double grave, but when the petitioner's father died it was found to be impossible to add the father's remains to the grave, due to insufficient depth. Also, the grave could not be enlarged due to concrete obstructions. Therefore the petitioner's father's remains had to be put in a nearby grave. The Chancellor considered that a mistake had been made, in that those digging the mother's grave should have been aware that a double plot was required and that the plot itself was not suitable for a double interment. He therefore granted a faculty of the exhumation of the mother's remains and their reinterment in the grave of her husband.

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

In 2000 the petitioner's mother died and, in accordance with a wish expressed in her will, her body was interred in a double-depth grave in Stoneleigh churchyard. In 2021 the petitioner's mother's partner died and his body was interred, in accordance with a wish in his own will, in the same grave. The petitioner now applied for her mother's partner's body to be exhumed and reinterred elsewhere, so that the petitioner could be buried in the same grave as her mother in due course. The reason given for the proposal by the petitioner (but without supporting evidence) was that by 2000 the relationship between her mother and her mother's partner had ‘just about ceased’ and there had been an understanding that the petitioner would be buried with her mother. The Chancellor determined that there had been nothing unlawful in the burial of the partner and the petitioner had shown no exceptional circumstances to justify an exhumation.

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 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.