With reference to Section 4 of the Theft Act 1968, corpses are not classified or regarded as property. In R v Sharp (1857) the defendant was charged with breaking into a burial ground and exhuming his mother’s remains which he wanted to take to another burial ground and have buried beside his father. The defendant was charged with trespass. He had misled the guard and obtained a license to enter the burial ground and the defendant was convicted accordingly. The defendant contended that he had done so on filial piety and religious duty.
The conviction was upheld. Graves were protected under section 25 of the Burial Act (1857) which reads as follows:-
S. 25 Offence of removal of body from burial ground
(1) It is an offence for a body or any human remains which have been interred in a place of burial to be removed unless one of the conditions listed in subsection (2) is complied with.
(2) The conditions referred to in subsection (1) are—
(a) The body or remains is or are removed in accordance with a faculty granted by the court;
(b) The body or remains is or are removed in accordance with the approval of a proposal under the Care of Cathedrals Measure 2011 (No. 1) by the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England or a fabric advisory committee;
(c) Unless the body or remains is or are interred in land which is subject to the jurisdiction of the court or its or their removal requires or require the approval of a proposal under the Care of Cathedrals Measure 2011, the body or remains is or are removed under a license from the Secretary of State and in accordance with any conditions attached to the license.
(3) A person who removes a body or remains in contravention of subsections (1) and (2) is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale.
(4) In subsection (2) (a) and (c) “court” means the consistory court of the diocese or, in the diocese of Canterbury, the commissary court of that diocese or any other court or body referred to in section 1 (2) or (3) of the Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1963 having jurisdiction to determine the matter.
However corpses are not regarded as property and the defendant could not be charged with the theft of a corpse.
Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Jessica Ward