Ecclesiastical Law Association

Ecclesiastical Law Association

Judgments: Exhumations

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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.

The petitioner, on behalf of herself and her six siblings, sought a faculty to authorise the exhumation of her brother's cremated remains from their parents' grave and reinterment in a nearby new grave. The deceased's daughter, believing it had been her father's wish to be interred with his parents, had arranged the interment without consulting the deceased's siblings, who only learned about the interment after it had taken place. It caused them great distress that there had been another interment in their parents' grave. The Chancellor was satisfied that there were exceptional circumstances to justify exhumation, as the grave had "become a focus of disquiet and grievance amongst the family members with a real degree of distress to some."

A widow had reserved by Faculty a grave next to the grave of her late husband. By mistake someone else was buried in the grave reserved for the widow. Faculty granted to the widow for exhumation of the remains of her husband, and reinterment in another part of the churchyard and reservation for her of a grave next to her late husband's new grave.

The petitioner's mother died in 1993, having expressed a wish to be cremated, and her remains were interred in the area set aside for cremated remains in Edgmond churchyard. The Petitioner's father died in 2016, having expressed a wish to be buried near to the remains of his wife, and his body was interred in another part of the same churchyard. The petitioner and his sisters wished to have the cremated remains of their mother exhumed and reinterred in their father's grave, so that both parents' remains would be together in a family grave. The Chancellor considered this an appropriate case in which to grant a faculty, as it was a case where "there is a proper and understandable proposal to reunite the remains of husband and wife in one plot in the same churchyard as currently contains those remains in separate plots".

Faculty sought for exhumation of husband's remains from grave in Norfolk and reinterment in a grave in Co. Atrim, the widow petitioner and her daughter having had to move, "for financial reasons" to live near their family in Co. Antrim. Faculty refused, 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.

Faculty refused for the exhumation of cremated remains from a family grave in Foston, Lincolnshire, and reinterment in another family grave at Beeston Regis, Norfolk, the remains having been interred 28 years previously.