Exhumation means "any disturbance" of buried human remains. Bodies may be exhumed for many reasons, including the lack of burial space, redevelopment of old cemeteries or crypts; archaeological reasons; individual requests for reburial, repatriation or cremation; criminal investigations or even to correct errors made ie person was buried in the wrong plot.
The need to exhume is not a common occurrence. However, when exhumation is required it must be done with dignity and respect and with all of the necessary legal licences and documentation. It is unlawful to disturb any human remains (including cremated remains) without permission.
There are three categories of legal exhumation:
under a Ministry of Justice licence;
ecclesiastical faculty (where remains are exhumed from consecrated ground);
a coroner's order.
Environmental Health Practitioners (EHPs) are required for those exhumations sanctioned under a Ministry of Justice licence.
What you can do
A family making a request for personal reasons should contact Bereavement Services who will be able to offer advice and support regarding the necessary paperwork.
If you discover human remains whilst carrying out excavation work, you must stop work, before any further disturbance and contact the police immediately.
You should also contact the Ministry of Justice and us.
What we can do
Once an Exhumation Licence is issued an copy will be sent to us and we will arrange for an officer to be present at the exhumation.