Burial and Cremation Law

Reform of the Law Governing Burial and Cremation?

The Law Commission have recently contacted the Society to ask us for views we may have on a possible project to reform to the law governing burial and cremation that they will be studying in the near future. The Commission is particularly interested to hear what the problems in the law are, any information the Society can provide about the scale of those problems, and what we would consider to be the likely benefits of reform (for example, economic, societal and environmental benefits); facts, statistics, and indications of time spent or money lost, as well as the non-financial impact of problems with the law, are all helpful. The Commission needs this information to build the case for reform and to assist in discussions with government departments about the priority that potential projects should be given.

Their background note states that "the current legislation governing burial is inconsistent and spread across various Acts and Church Measures, some of which date back to the 19th century. Difficulties arise in its application to modern conditions. Space is limited and increasingly expensive yet, with a growing population, there is a high demand for burial sites; it has been estimated that half of the 25,000 burial grounds in England and Wales will be full by 2030. Further, societal attitudes to the disposal of bodies have evolved; the law should be flexible and accommodate different religious and cultural beliefs and alternative burial arrangements.

"Various organisations – including religious and other belief groups, local authorities, cremation authorities, funeral directors, and archaeologists – as well as bereaved families are affected by the law governing burial and cremation. The law may be preventing sensible activities and causing inefficiencies with a financial as well as emotional impact. A project could:

  1. examine how the law should facilitate efficient use of burial grounds, and the circumstances in which burial grounds can be closed and built upon;
  2. consolidate and update the different statutory provisions applying to burials in churchyards, cemeteries, and private burial grounds;
  3. review and codify the duty to dispose of a dead body, and consider whether individuals’ wishes concerning the disposal of their bodies should be legally binding; and
  4. examine whether the Cremation Act 1902 confers sufficient powers to make regulations concerning cremation.

"Government consulted on reform to burial law in 2004, but announced in 2007 that primary legislation was not a priority; a similar announcement was made in 2012. Government is, however, currently considering changes to the Cremation (England and Wales) Regulations 2008 and changes to cremation practice. The Commission is interested in consultees’ views on the impact of these issues and whether they would be suitable for review. They would also like to hear about any specific aspects of burial and cremation law that consultees suggest require modification, simplification or reform."

Fellows with experience – primarily from an archaeological standpoint – who can provide evidence of the sorts of problems encountered with the current legislation governing burial are invited to submit their views or, as an initial approach, to contact the General Secretary John Lewis at the Society. The deadline for our reply to the Commission is 31 October this year, and we would appreciate responses from the Fellowship in early October.


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