Burial and Cremation

Current project status

  • Initiation: Could include discussing scope and terms of reference with lead Government Department
  • Pre-consultation: Could include approaching interest groups and specialists, producing scoping and issues papers, finalising terms of project
  • Consultation: Likely to include consultation events and paper, making provisional proposals for comment
  • Policy development: Will include analysis of consultation responses. Could include further issues papers and consultation on draft Bill
  • Reported: Usually recommendations for law reform but can be advice to government, scoping report or other recommendations

The law of burial in England and Wales is piecemeal, complex and outdated, and there are unresolved issues in cremation law.

The problem

Burial law is governed by a patchwork of legislation, some of which dates to the 1850s. There are different laws in place for burial grounds which are operated by local authorities, the Church of England, and private burial grounds. This complex picture has emerged as a result of different historical development, and it means that there are gaps in the safeguards which protect the dignity of the people who are buried in burial grounds.  

Burial space is running out across England and Wales, with the situation worse in some urban areas. Grave reuse has been proposed as a solution to this problem, but reform to permit the reuse of graves must include sufficient safeguards to maintain public support.   

Cremation law has been reformed more recently in 2017, but some issues remain unresolved. Concerns have been raised about entitlement to ashes, and what may be done with them. It has been suggested that the current regulations restrict religious freedom. And there are issues relating to the ownership of medical implants which are removed before cremation. 


The project 

This project has begun and will run until the end of 2025. It is currently in the pre-consultation stage, where we meet with stakeholders to understand their experiences and to hear their views on areas where reform is needed.  

We intend to publish a consultation paper in autumn 2024.  

Project details

Area of law

Property, family and trust law


Professor Nicholas Hopkins