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Burial and exhumation

This section provides a guide for burial ground managers, information on burial law, including a review of burial law. It also covers the procedure to follow if human remains are to be exhumed or if a churchyard is to be closed to further burials.

We are responsible for burial law and practice, including exhumation in England, in The Welsh Assembly is responsible for burial regulations in Wales. In Scotland, responsibility for the relevant law lies with the Scottish Executive. Before June 2005, the government department responsible for burial law in England was the Home Office.


Burial ground managers' guide

This guide contains advice for burial ground managers and covers the law; service and standards; staff training; planning; finance; complaints; and cultural, environmental and historical heritages. It was published on 7 April 2006. It aims to:


Most cemeteries are operated by local authorities i.e. district, borough, town or parish councils. They are subject to the legislation set out in the Local Government Act 1972 and the regulations issued under that Act (the Local Authorities' Cemeteries Order 1977). Private cemeteries are governed by any private or local Acts which may have established them, or to which they may otherwise be subject, while Church of England graveyards are subject to relevant ecclesiastical legislation. In addition, there remain a few public burial and related Acts of general application which date back to the nineteenth century.

Review of burial law

We are currently reviewing burial law and practice with the assistance of an advisory group. This work includes a consultation paper and a survey of burial grounds.

In 2004, a consultation paper was issued on burial law reform, "Burial Law and Policy in the 21st Century: The Need for a Sensitive and Sustainable Approach." A report on the responses received was published in April 2006.

A survey of burial grounds in England and Wales has also been undertaken. Nearly 10,000 responses have been received. A report will be published soon.

A burial and cemeteries advisory group was set up in 2001 to make recommendations on government policy, and provide advice for burial authorities and the public. We chair the group, and it is made of up organisations who have an interest in this area including charities, religious groups and government departments. If you want to know more please go to our burial and cemeteries advisory group section.


It is an offence to exhume buried remains unless, in general terms, either a licence has been issued by the Secretary of State, or a faculty obtained where the remains are buried in land consecrated according to the rites of the Church of England. If a burial ground is to be developed for other purposes, prior exhumation of the remains may be compulsory, and their disposal subject to the Secretary of State's directions (if the development does not involve disturbance of the remains, the need to remove them may be dispensed with).

Anyone wishing to arrange for the removal of buried remains, including cremated remains, may apply to us for an exhumation licence. Anyone contemplating the development of a site containing buried remains is urged to contact us beforehand for advice on the applicable legislation and procedure for the site in question. Anyone disturbing buried remains accidentally is advised to leave the remains in place and to contact us immediately.

Application forms and guidance notes can be requested by emailing us. If you have any queries, please call us on 020 7210 0049 / 0066.

Church of England churchyards

We process applications for the formal closure to further burials of Church of England churchyards which are full or where otherwise further burials would be undesirable. Non-Church of England burial grounds may be closed administratively by whoever is responsible for the site. Closure applications forms and explanatory notes are available on request if you email us.

Guidance for custodians of war memorials in England and Wales

Guidance for custodians of war memorials in England and Wales

This guide contains advice for custodians of War Memorials in England and Wales and covers such matters as definition of memorials, assessment of their condition, and how they might be best protected [preservation and maintenance]. It also encourages registration of memorials with the National Inventory. It was published on 5 April 2007.

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