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Exhuming a body

Exhumations are generally rare and tend to be traumatic for the family involved.

They can take a long time to arrange and are usually expensive. For these reasons, it is always best to consult with all the relatives before proceeding.

Exhumation of both full burials and cremated remains require a Ministry of Justice licence or Bishop's Faculty or both.

Exhumations occur for a number of reasons, including:

  • movement from the original grave to a subsequently acquired family plot

  • repatriation overseas to be buried along with other family

  • transfer from one cemetery scheduled for development to another

  • on the coroner's order for further forensic examination.

Apply for an exhumation

If the interment is in unconsecrated ground, a licence must be obtained from the Ministry of Justice. They do not charge a fee to issue a licence. The head of Bereavement Services is also required to approve the application.

If the person is buried in consecrated ground, permission from the church must also be obtained. This is called a Bishop’s Faculty. Details of how to apply for a Faculty are available from Bereavement Services. The application for a Bishop’s Faculty has to be supported by the head of Bereavement Services. A Bishop’s Faculty is rarely granted and a fee of approximately £295 is payable whether the Faculty is granted or not.

If the remains are buried in consecrated ground and are to be interred in unconsecrated ground both a Ministry of Justice licence and a Bishop's Faculty are required.

The following conditions also apply:

  • an exhumation licence contains certain conditions that have to be observed
  • an environmental health officer must be present at the exhumation of a body to ensure that there is no threat to public health
  • if the remains are being interred in another country the Ministry of Justice will need confirmation of the approval to this from the relevant authorities
  • occasionally, cadaver certificates are required in addition to exhumation licence.

Decency and safety

An environmental health officer supervises the event to ensure that respect for the deceased person is maintained and that public health is protected. The officer will also ensure that:

  • the correct grave is opened
  • the exhumation commences as early as possible in the morning to ensure maximum privacy
  • the plot is screened as appropriate for privacy
  • the health and safety of all workers is maintained ie protective clothing including masks and gloves, task lights and all other necessary equipment
  • everyone present shows due respect to the deceased person and to adjoining graves
  • the nameplate on the casket corresponds to that on the licence
  • the new casket is approved
  • all human remains and all the pieces of casket are placed in the new casket
  • the new casket is properly sealed
  • the area of exhumation is properly disinfected
  • satisfactory arrangements are in place for the onward transmission of the remains.

If the conditions of the licence cannot be met, or there are public health or decency concerns, the exhumation may not proceed.


Bereavement Services