The law governing how we dispose of the bodies of our loved ones when they die is unfit for modern needs.
While we often think of the choice as being between burial and cremation, new methods of disposal are being developed and used in other countries which are unregulated here.
Further, the legislation governing more traditional methods of disposal is outdated, piecemeal and complex.
The law does not ensure that a person’s own wishes as to the disposal of their remains are carried out, leading to disputes where family members disagree. Disputes also arise as to entitlement to a person’s remains.
This project came out of our 13th Programme of Law Reform.
The project began with a scoping phase in December 2022. This phase has now concluded, with the publication of our terms of reference.
Due to the wide range of issues involved, and the different stakeholder groups which are interested in different elements of this work, we have decided to split the project into three strands. Each strand has its own project web page at the links below.
- Burial and Cremation, which will look at the law governing different types of burial grounds and crematoria. This will include consideration of grave reuse.
- New Funerary Methods, which will consider a future-proof regulatory framework for new methods of dealing with a body after death, such as human composting and alkaline hydrolysis.
- Rights and Obligations relating to Funerary Methods, Funerals and Remains, which will look at issues including whether a person’s wishes about their body after death should be legally binding, who should have the right to make decisions about bodies, and public health funerals.
As set out in the terms of reference, a number of issues are out of scope of this project. These include the regulation of funeral directors, death registration, regulation of the preservation of bodies (such as by cryopreservation), and the criminal law relating to the desecration of a body.
In recognition of the pressing need for reform in this area, we have agreed to conduct the Burials and Cremation, and New Funerary Methods strands of the project alongside each other. The overall timetable for each strand, following conclusion of the scoping phase, will be as follows:
- Burial and Cremation has now started and will run until the end of 2025;
- New Funerary Methods will run from the beginning of 2024 to spring 2026;
- Rights and Obligations relating to Funerary Methods, Funerals and Remains will run from the end of 2025 to the end of 2027.
Each strand will include a public consultation on a consultation paper, and will conclude with the publication of a report containing recommendations to Government. We intend to publish a draft Bill to accompany the New Funerary Methods report. We also intend to publish a draft Bill addressing both Burial and Cremation and Rights and Obligations at the end of the Rights and Obligations strand.
For general enquiries, please contact us by email at email@example.com
Area of law
Property, family and trust law
Professor Nicholas Hopkins