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Grave-spaces and mistakes about them

25 October 2013


From Mr David Lamming
Sir, - Your legal correspondent Shiranikha Herbert, in her report (News, 27 September) of Chancellor Mark Blackett-Ord's decision to grant a faculty for the exhumation and reinterment of a body that, by mistake, had been buried in a grave reserved for a couple whose son was buried in the adjoining plot, states that "what was unusual about this case was that it was not the family of the person to be moved who sought the disinterment, and they positively opposed it."

Unusual, maybe, but certainly not unprecedented. In 1989, Chancellor Michael Goodman, sitting in the Lincoln consistory court, had to adjudicate in a similar dispute when it was discovered that a grave-space reserved for the petitioner next to the grave of her late husband had been used for the burial of the widow of the person buried on the other side of the reserved space.

The case is reported: In re St Luke's, Holbeach Hurn [1991] 1 WLR 16. Like Chancellor Blackett-Ord, Chancellor Goodman decided that the petitioner's legal right to be buried in the reserved space should be respected and protected, and, accordingly, he authorised the disinterment, but not before adjoining the hearing for a short time to enable the parties to discuss a suggestion, put to the petitioner in cross-examination, that she could be buried in the then vacant plot at the foot of her husband's grave. This was not acceptable, however. Chancellor Goodman records the petitioner's response that "her husband had never bullied her or trampled on her in life and that she did not like the idea of being under his feet"!

You report that Chancellor Blackett-Ord set out lessons to be learned from the recent case, including the need to stipulate in any faculty reserving a grave-space the obligation on the PCC or the incumbent and churchwardens to mark the reserved plot.

In the Lincoln case, Chancellor Goodman concluded his judgment by reminding all incumbents and churchwardens to take great care to ensure that churchyard plans are kept up to date, with all exclusive rights of burial clearly marked, and the plan's whereabouts made known to all who may be responsible for arranging burials.

In the Leicester case, it appears that the faculty was granted subject to a condition that reflected this advice, and the problem arose because the priest-in-charge marked the wrong plot for the deceased's burial when there was snow on the ground.

None the less, it would seem sensible for diocesan registrars to remind the clergy in their dioceses of the guidelines given in these two cases.

20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU

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