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Alphabetical Index of all judgments on this web site as at 20 January 2022

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Exhumations

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The petitioner wished to have her mother's cremated remains exhumed from Bromsgrove Cemetery and scattered elsewhere with the cremated remains of the petitioner's father. The petition was unopposed, but the petitioner requested a hearing. Since the interment of the petitioner's mother's ashes, her father had always regretted acting in haste upon his wife's death and had wished that his and his wife's ashes could have been scattered together, especially as his wife had not wished to be buried in consecrated ground, neither having religious beliefs. The Chancellor granted a faculty. The petitioner's father had made a mistake as to wishes of his wife with respect to her burial. The Chancellor was satisfied that no precedent would be set by his decision. In fact a previous judgment on the same basis had already been made in respect of the same cemetery.

The petitioner wished to have her husband's ashes exhumed from the cemetery, to enable them to be scattered. The petitioner had been experiencing guilt that she had had her husband's ashes interred, when he had expressed a wish to have his ashes scattered. The Chancellor found that this fact, and the fact that the petitioner had not been informed by the burial authority that the interment was to be in consecrated ground (which would result in difficulties if an application were to be made subsequently for exhumation), together constituted circumstances sufficient to justify the grant of a faculty.

The petitioner wished to exhume the cremated remains of her husband (who had died in 2015) from Burnley Cemetery, with a view to reinterring them in a family grave, which the family was in the process of purchasing at a cemetery in Morecombe, and which the petitioner intended to be her own final resting place. The petitioner's family lived at Morecombe. The Chancellor determined that the petitioner had not established special circumstances to justify the grant of a faculty for exhumation: " ... the time spent, and the inconvenience and difficulties experienced, in travelling from Morecambe to Burnley, even at the age of 82, do not amount to special circumstances such as to justify the exhumation."

The petitioner wished to move her mother's cremated remains from Calverley churchyard to Otley Cemetery. The Chancellor could find no special circumstances to enable him to grant a faculty.

The Petitioner and his wife, having moved from Castle Bytham to Grantham, wished to exhume the cremated remains of their late son and re-inter them in Grantham Cemetery. The grounds for making the application were: (1) the petitioner and his wife, due to their age and frailty, were unable to visit the grave at Castle Bytham; and (2) the Petitioner and his wife had purchased a grave at Grantham Cemetery with the intention that their son's remains should be placed their and their own cremated remains would be placed in the same grave in due course. The Chancellor stated that, following the principles laid down in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002], he could not grant a faculty on the first ground, but he granted a faculty on the second ground, because a family grave had been established.

A Faculty was refused for the exhumation from the local cemetery of the cremated remains of the petitioner’s late husband, for re-interment in the same grave as the petitioner’s late son in the St. Mary’s churchyard, Bognor Regis. The Chancellor could find no special reason or circumstance to justify him overriding the normal presumption that burial should be final. 

The Petitioners' daughter died aged 10 in 1982 in tragic circumstances, and the petitioners had no part in the funeral arrangements, which included interment of ashes in a consecrated part of Cheshunt Cemetery. Upon making enquiries in 2017 about the possibility of having her remains buried next to those of her daughter, the mother discovered that the ground in which her daughter's remains were interred was consecrated. The petitioners, both atheists, would not have agreed to the interment of their daughter's remains in consecrated ground, had they been aware of the situation at the time of their daughter's death. And in view of her atheistic beliefs, the mother could not contemplate being buried in consecrated ground next to her daughter. The Deputy Chancellor determined that, notwithstanding the passage of time since the interment in 1982, this was a case of exceptional circumstances based on a fundamental mistake at the time of the interment. The Deputy Chancellor therefore granted a faculty for exhumation and reinterment in an unconsecrated part of another cemetery.

The petitioners' baby had tragically died aged two days in 2004. The child's cremated remains had been interred next to the graves of other children in a consecrated area of Cheshunt Cemetery. The petitioners had been happy with the location of their baby's grave and with a Christian service conducted by a priest, though they stated in papers before the hearing that they were "from non-religious families". The petitioners were now planning to move to a town 28 miles away and had in mind moving abroad in 5 or 6 years' time. They now regretted the decision to have the baby's ashes interred and wished to have the ashes exhumed, so that they could keep the ashes with them wherever they moved. The mother intended in due time to be buried with her baby's ashes.  Following the guidance of the Court of Arches in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam 299 (“….a change of mind as to the place of burial on the part of relatives or others responsible for the interment should not be treated as an acceptable ground for authorising exhumation ...” and “... remains are not to be regarded as 'portable' at a later date, because relatives move elsewhere and have difficulty visiting the grave ...”), the Deputy Chancellor could find no special circumstances to justify the grant of a faculty.

The Petitioners were atheists, and had been disturbed when they discovered that their baby's cremated remains had been interred in a consecrated part of the cemetery, when there was an adjacent unconsecrated area available. Neither the funeral directors nor the burial authority's officer who dealt with the interment had explained the nature of each area of land. The Chancellor determined that there had been a fundamental mistake of fact on the part of the petitioners as to the nature of the plot in which they agreed to have the ashes of their baby interred, and he granted a faculty for exhumation and reinterment.

The Dean of Arches granted leave to appeal against the decision of the Deputy Chancellor in Re Cheshunt Cemetery (No. 2) [2018] ECC StA 2 not to allow the exhumation of the cremated remains of the petitioners' baby son. Leave was granted on two grounds: (a) the Deputy Chancellor was wrong ... to categorise the Appellants’ case as “one of change of mind rather than a (potentially operative) type of mistake ... namely a lack of understanding as to the significance of interment in consecrated ground”; and (b) the Deputy Chancellor thereby failed to consider whether this mistake was capable of constituting exceptional circumstances within the law as laid down in Re Blagdon Cemetery [2002] Fam. 299 and/or to explain why this was not so.