‘Exhumation’ means removing the remains of a human being from the ground, either in the form of a body or cremated remains.
You may need to exhume human remains to:
- move a body from the original grave site to a new grave
- deepen an existing grave for a further burial
- send them for cremation
There are three categories of legal exhumation:
- with a Ministry of Justice licence
- with an ecclesiastical faculty (where remains are exhumed from consecrated ground)
- by a coroner’s order
Exhumations are rare and can be traumatic for families. They can take a long time to arrange and are usually expensive. For these reasons, it's always best to discuss with all relatives before going ahead. Concerned parties should give this careful consideration and take legal advice, if they think it's appropriate.
Exhumation will always be the last resort - we'll try to resolve issues in other ways first. If an exhumation is required, this will be undertaken with sensitivity, respect and dignity.
You need to apply for a licence from the Ministry of Justice for the exhumation of buried or cremated remains. We cannot grant an exhumation without consent from the Ministry of Justice or the Peterborough Diocesan Registry.
If the person is buried in consecrated grounds, you will also need permission from the church.
Faculties for exhumation are not automatically granted - exceptional circumstances must be shown.
You may also need a cadaver license in some instances.
It's an offence to exhume human remains without getting lawful permissions - a funeral director can help you to get the necessary permissions.
Decency and safety
A member of the cemeteries team will be present at all exhumations carried out in any cemetery under the Council's control.
To make sure there's no threat to public health, an environmental health officer must be present at the exhumation of a body. They will make sure:
- the correct grave is opened
- the exhumation starts as early in the morning as possible, for privacy
- the plot is screened, for privacy
- health and safety measures are followed - for example, workers are wearing protective clothing, masks and gloves
- all equipment is available
- everyone present shows due respect to the deceased person and other graves
- the nameplate on the casket matches the name on the licence
- the new casket has been approved
- all human remains and all 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 any public health or decency concerns, the exhumation may not go ahead.
If you have any questions about exhumations, email email@example.com.