Sara McGaughey, Solicitor, considers the question -what are your legal rights to a burial plot?
In recent years there have been many reports of bodies being exhumed from their graves in order to facilitate road widening or other local authority development schemes. Digging up the dead to allow for infrastructure works does appear to be a step too far and for many people would threaten the sanctity of the grave but the reality is that such works are being carried out across the UK. So what are your legal rights to a burial plot?
When a burial plot is purchased from the relevant council, the purchaser will generally be regarded as having obtained a privilege, license or easement to make burials in the specified plot and will not actually acquire a proprietary interest. The main element of the right granted to the purchaser, is that it will exist only as long as the land remains a cemetery. The owner’s rights are subject to the rules of the cemetery and any other restrictions made in the contract of sale. This means it is perfectly legal for a council to require that bodies are exhumed if the land is required for some other purpose, albeit alternative burial grounds will have to be provided for any bodies to be moved.
Like any redevelopment proposal, the necessary statutory approvals and planning permission will be required before works can start. This means that at the planning stage members of the public will be able to lodge any objections to the proposed move and as has been the case in Northern Ireland recently, the objections of the public can be sufficient grounds to abandon the proposed works through the burial ground.
Unlike with most purchases of land, the owner of a burial plot is only granted a limited property right and as a result they may have no option but to lose the plot!