Pump Court Chambers

Justin Gau successfully opposes exhumation of wrongly interred person

News 22nd February 2018

Justin Gau has successfully opposed the exhumation of Patricia Sutton, who had been wrongly interred at South Stone Cemetery in Southampton.

In 1999 Mark Edwards, reserved the exclusive right of burial in a space at the cemetery next to the grave of his late sister and was given a deed recording the reservation accordingly. However In 2016 Mr Edwards discovered that Ms Sutton had been buried in the gravespace that he had reserved. He complained to the burial authority (Southampton City Council), who said that the register had been amended to record a different gravespace reservation. Mr Edwards issued proceedings following the discovery, which were opposed by the local authority, which had statutory responsibility for the cemetery and also the family of Ms Sutton.

The matter was heard before the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Winchester, before the Worshipful Cain Ormondroyd (The Chancellor). The Chancellor was satisfied that the petitioner had not agreed to a change of reserved grave. Whilst accepting that there had been an administrative mistake by the burial authority, the Chancellor decided not to grant a faculty, because of “the possibility of real consequences” for the family of the person buried in the grave and the alternative possibilities open for the petitioner to be buried in another nearby grave, in the same grave as his sister, or “the prospect of exhuming [his sister’s] remains so that they could be reburied in a plot with space to the side”. An expert in Ecclesiastical law, Justin Gau was instructed by Southampton City Council on behalf of the defendants.

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