Exhumation of both buried and cremated remains usually requires a Home Office licence. Exhumations occur for a number of reasons, including:

  • movement from the original grave to a subsequently acquired family plot in the same or another cemetery
  • repatriation overseas to be buried along with other family
  • transfer from one cemetery scheduled for development to another
  • court orders requiring further forensic examination.

It is an offence to exhume any human remains without firstly obtaining the necessary lawful permissions. Funeral directors can help in obtaining these: 

  • a licence must be obtained from the Home Office
  • if the person is buried in consecrated ground, permission from the church must also be obtained
  • an environmental health officer must be present

Decency and safety
An environmental health officer must be present at the exhumation and supervise the proceedings to ensure that respect for the deceased person is maintained and that public health is protected. 

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