Landlords who are developing within the vicinity of a disused burial ground should be aware of the law surrounding the treatment of long buried human remains. The discovery of an ancient headstone can be petrifying in all senses of the word!
Many hospitals and other government buildings with attached burial grounds are making their way onto the open market, so knowledge of the law is useful. As a general legal principle, it is unlawful to remove or disturb any human remains without lawful authority. Where remains are found on land which has been consecrated by the Church of England, their treatment is subject to ecclesiastical law and falls within the jurisdiction of the Consistory Court, otherwise secular controls apply to non-consecrated land.
In relation to non-consecrated land, generally a landlord/developer may rely on a procedure set out in the Disused Burial Grounds (Amendment) Act 1981 for the removal of remains. According to this Act, if the human remains are over 50 years old and, where prior public notice of their removal has not resulted in objections, the removal and reinterment of the remains may be undertaken where buildings will be erected. A licence is required from the Ministry of Justice prior to any exhumation. If the erection of the building would not result in the remains being disturbed, a dispensation order can be issued by the Ministry of Justice. Where the remains are less than 50 years old and the family objects to their removal, this can prove fatal to the development.