Exhuming a body

Gaining permission for an exhumation can be long, complicated and traumatic. Lawful consent is required to perform an exhumation.

Exhumation means the removal  of a body or cremated human remains from the ground.  It also covers the disturbance of remains within a grave, particularly when a grave is re-opened for burial.  It is important to understand that it is unlawful to disturb ANY human remains (this also includes any cremated remains) without first obtaining the necessary lawful permissions.

There are various reasons given in relation to an application for an exhumation:  Relatives may wish to move a body from a grave to another family grave or vault in the same or a different cemetery or to be cremated. Other personal family reasons might include repatriation overseas.   A Coroner, with a warrant, may also order an exhumation.

Regardless of the reason, an exhumation is a traumatic occurrence for all those involved and should only be considered after carefully thinking through the whole process and getting as much information as possible from all the relevant authorities before proceeding.  It is also important discuss the issues and implications with other members of your family.


To exhume human remains, at any cemetery controlled by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, a Bishop's Faculty application must be made.   Within burial grounds, the land is termed either Consecrated or Unconsecrated.  The term "Consecrated" means dedicated to the service of God according to the rites of the Church of England.  A Bishop of the Church of England carries out consecration of land.

If human remains are to be exhumed from a grave in consecrated ground to be re-interred in consecrated ground in another burial ground, you will only need to apply for a Bishop's Faculty.

Under certain circumstances where remains are being moved from consecrated ground, to be either re-interred in the same consecrated grave plot or unconsecrated ground, both a Bishop's Faculty and a Secretary of State's Licence will be required.

Some select parts of Welwyn Hatfield Lawn Cemetery have never been consecrated.  This includes the cremated remains plots and Islamic Faith sections.  In these situations, only a Secretary of States Licence is Required.

Obtaining consents

Approval needs to be obtained from Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council's Cemetery Services. Please Contact us for relevant consents and correct applications.

Generally speaking the written permission of the owner of the exclusive rights to the grave will be required to authorise an exhumation.  In addition, permission of the next of kin of the deceased to be exhumed will also be necessary.

Where it is necessary to disturb other human remains in order to carry out an exhumation, the written permission of the next of kin of each person so disturbed must normally be obtained.

What happens next?

Once you have obtained all the licences you will need to forward these onto the Cemetery Services department.

Arrangements can then be made to carry out the exhumation and ensure that if any of the licences have special conditions listed these are fully considered.   Contact should also be made with all those involved with the pending exhumation, this may be the funeral director, the burial authorities, a minister of religion for the re-interment and other family members to ensure that family wishes are adhered to.

A copy of the Licence will be automatically sent to the councils Environmental Health Department, so they can ensure the safety of public health. Exhumations are generally carried out early in the morning to ensure maximum privacy and an Environmental Health Officer for Welwyn Hatfield Borough council will be in attendance along with a Funeral Director and Council Bereavement Services staff. 

There is normally some discussion between all attending parties about how the exhumation will take place and what equipment is required.

As soon as reasonably practical after any disinterment, the officer of the Cemetery Services officer will complete the statutory records to state:


  • the date of disinterment;
  • the number of the grave;
  • the name of the person whose remains are disinterred;
  • where the remains have be re-interred or cremated.


The cost of an exhumation can be substantial so the financial implications should be clearly established at the outset.  It is very difficult to give precise details.  Remember to include, for example:

  • memorial removal costs;
  • Bishop's Faculty fees. There is no fee from the Ministry of Justice for the issue of an exhumation licence;
  • funeral director's charges, including the cost of a new coffin or cremated remains casket;
  • cemetery fees and charges for exhumation and re-interment.

All exhumations, applications and requests are dealt with individually and further detailed information can be obtained from the Cemetery Services Department

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