Human Remains from Wreck sites: a Proposed Policy for Consultation

The provisions of the Burial Act 1857 (hereafter ‘the Act’) extend to the 12nm territorial limit adjacent to England. It is therefore unlawful to disturb burials within this limit without first obtaining lawful authority to do so.

However, the wording of the Act appears to refer to bodies (or parts thereof) which were deliberately buried. As such, human remains from wreck sites, even if they lie within the territorial limit, do not fall under the provisions of the Act (although deliberately buried human remains in submerged landscapes would), and are therefore subject to the common law. Indeed, it seems that the common law offers no mechanism for the exhumation of a corpse or parts of a corpse found buried in unconsecrated ground, which would include corpses found in wrecks. Removal could therefore be a common law offence in cases not covered by the Act or other legislation.

It is therefore desirable that some mechanism be devised to bring human remains from historic wreck sites into line with protection offered to deliberately deposited remains.

In conjunction with the Ministry of Justice, the purpose of this document is therefore to highlight the legislative and policy gap with regard to the treatment of human remains from wreck sites within England’s territorial waters, and to propose a future best practice.

The consultation period is from Monday 21 October 2013 to 13 December 2013.


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