Exhumation is the removal from the ground of the remains of a human being, either in the form of a body or cremated remains.

Such events tend to be rare and can be traumatic for the family involved. They can take a long time to arrange and are usually expensive.

It is always best to consult with all the relatives before proceeding. If the body is in a common grave, written consent from the nearest surviving relative of others buried in that grave must be obtained.

Advice regarding exhumations should be sought from the Home Office. The Funeral Director you employ will also be able to help with anything requested by the coroner. If the body is to be moved abroad they will also be able to offer advice regarding the requirements of Authorities in the relevant country.

Exhumation of both buried and cremated remains generally requires a Home Office licence.


It is an offence to exhume any human remains without first obtaining the necessary lawful permissions. Both buried and cremated remains require a licence from central government. Funeral directors can help in obtaining these.

Exhumation licences will also contain certain conditions that have to be observed.

If the person is buried in consecrated grounds, permission from the church must also be obtained.

Occasionally, cadaver certificates are required in addition to exhumation licences. A funeral director usually applies for these on your behalf, but you can apply directly to our Environmental Health unit for one if you wish.

Exhumations can occur for a number of reasons, for example:-

  • The re-opening of grave for a medical or criminal investigation.

  • To establish the identity of a body.

  • To recover jewellery or documents.

  • To open an inquest.

  • To enable road schemes to proceed.

  • To cremate a body.

  • To transfer a body from one grave to another.

  • Public health.

Decency and safety

An Environmental Health Officer must normally be present at the exhumation and supervise 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 e.g. 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 has been approved by the Environmental Health Officer.

  • 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, and satisfactory arrangements are in place for the onward transmission of the remains.

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