Ecclesiastical Law Association

Ecclesiastical Law Association

Judgments: Exhumations

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Faculty granted for exhumation of cremated remains, in order to allow for remains of husband and wife, whose remains were buried separately in same churchyard, to be together in one grave.

The petitioner had discovered that the memorial to her husband had not been laid directly over the casket containing his ashes, when she had previously been assured by a churchwarden this that was not the case. (She in fact had taken it upon herself without faculty to move the casket under the memorial.) The petitioner felt that she had been deliberately misled, and she wished to have her husband's ashes exhumed and reinterred in a local cemetery. This had given rise to a breakdown in relationships between the petitioner and the vicar and churchwardens. The petitioner claimed that every time she visited her husband's grave she felt anger and grievance towards the vicar and churchwardens. The Chancellor refused to grant a faculty for exhumation and reinterment: "The fact that the widow or widower of a person whose remains have been interred in a particular churchyard has strong feelings of anger and grievance towards the incumbent and churchwardens of the particular church cannot justify the exhumation of the remains in question."

Faculty granted for exhumation from a husband's grave in England and reinterment in the grave of his wife in Australia. The judgment contains a discussion of the decisions in a number of "portable remains" and "family grave" cases.

The Petitioner wished to have her late husband's remains exhumed and reinterred in a churchyard nearer to where she now lived, her reason for the request being that she now found it difficult to visit her husband's grave. Applying the principles laid down by the Court of Arches in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299, the Chancellor refused to grant a faculty.

An application was made for a faculty to exhume the cremated remains of James Thomas Padgett (interred in 1988) from the churchyard of St. Helen's Edlington, with a view to the remains being reinterred with the ashes of his wife, which were interreded in 2007 in Newport Cemetery, nearer to the home of the deceased's daughter, who also wished to have her ashes interred in due course in the same grave in the cemetery. The applicant stated that her osteo-arthritis now prevented her from travelling long distances. The Chancellor, applying the principles in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002], did not find any special circumstances to justify him granting a faculty.

The petitioner's father's body had been buried in the churchyard in 2014. A double depth grave had been requested, but it had not been possible to dig double depth. When the petitioner's mother died in 2017, a request was made for burial in an adjoining grave, but the petitioner was informed that it would not be possible, as there were tree roots in the way, so the petitioner's mother was buried elsewhere in the churchyard. The petitioner subsequently sought advice from an arboriculturist, who advised that it would be possible to dig an adjacent grave without harm to the tree. The Petitioner therefore sought permission to exhume her mother's body and inter it in the grave next to her father. The Chancellor decided that there were exceptional circumstances to justify granting a faculty for exhumation and reinterment.

Faculty refused for exhumation from parish churchyard (in view of proposed sale of family home in the parish) and re-interment in family burial area in Abbey grounds.

The Chancellor granted a faculty for exhumation, finding that there were sufficient special circumstances to justify him doing so. The undertakers had failed to ensure that the grave digger had dug the grave sufficiently deep. In consequence of this failure, the coffin had become exposed to the surface at one end, where the ground had sunk. Additionally, the ground anchors supporting the headstone had pierced the top corner of the coffin and the coffin lid was broken or had rotted since burial. The Chancellor directed that the cost of the exhumation, including the faculty fees, should rest with the undertakers.

The petitioners wished to have their father's ashes (interred in 2004) exhumed and reinterred in the grave of their mother, whose body was buried in 2015. Considering the guidelines in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002], the Chancellor determined to grant a faculty on the basis that (a) the reinterment would be into a family grave and would free up a cremation plot for future use, and (b) the mother had reluctantly had her husband's ashes interred in 2004 (because the undertakers no longer wished to store the ashes), but in the mistaken belief (as she had not been advised to the contrary) that there would be no problem in having her husband's remains transferred to the same grave in which her body was to be interred in due course, which had always been her intention.