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 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.

An Environmental Health officer must be present at the exhumation of a body to make sure there is no threat to public health.

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.

Reasons for exhumations

Exhumations occur for a number of reasons, including:

  • movement from the original grave to a subsequently acquired family plot in the same or other cemetery
  • repatriation overseas to be buried along with other family 
  • transfer from one cemetery scheduled for development to another 
  • court orders requiring further forensic examination

Decency and safety

An Environmental Health officer is present at all exhumations. They make sure 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 starts as early as possible in the morning to ensure maximum privacy
  • the plot is screened as appropriate for privacy
  • health and safety of all workers is maintained
  • 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
  • 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
  • satisfactory arrangements are in place for the onward transmission of the remains

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

For further information, please contact us:

Last updated: 10 March 2021 16:40:07