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1. In April 2008 the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) released a statement as to how burial legislation would be applied in relation to the archaeological excavation of human remains. This explained that excavated remains would be subject to a time limit for re-interment, normally within two years; it would be open to apply for an extension to this time-limit where circumstances justified.

2. To assist archaeologists who wish to apply for such an extension a new form designed to collate the minimum information required is now available on request from

3. Any such applications should be made approximately two months in advance of the expiry of the time limit, or as soon as possible thereafter. Every effort should be made to apply in time. Applications made after the expiry date are unlikely to be refused on that account alone, but should be accompanied by an explanation for the delay.

4. Any extensions will not normally be granted more than two months in advance of expiry of the time limit. This is to minimise the risk of granting extensions unnecessarily. Where an application is made earlier, it should make clear why an extension is considered necessary at that time.

5. Work continues on our proposals to amend burial legislation to bring it into line with modern requirements. The aim is to allow otherwise legitimate activities, such as the archaeological examination of human remains, to proceed without the constraints of legislation not designed to deal with such issues. In taking this forward, the MoJ will continue to work closely with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, English Heritage and relevant professional bodies.

6. Any archaeologist wishing to seek assistance on a particular case is invited to contact the MoJ on 020 3334 6388.

Burials Team
Ministry of Justice, 4th Floor, 102 Petty France.

March 2010

You can download an appliation form here from the IfA.

Burial law and archaeology
? Crown copyright
Produced by the Ministry of Justice
Alternative formats are available on request from
Annex: frequently asked questions
Q1. Do I now need to apply for a licence where I have previously been told that I did not need one?
Not if the remains have already been removed from the ground. If remains have not yet been disinterred, an application may now be made.
Q2. Does an extant burial ground have to be recognisable as such?
Not necessarily; but a site which has clearly passed into other use is not an extant burial ground. In cases of doubt, contact the Ministry of Justice.
Q3. Will the Ministry of Justice continue to issue exhumation licences for trial pits in advance of site development work?
Yes (subject to the usual considerations).
Q4. Will the Ministry of Justice always require a firm date and details of arrangements for the re-interment of remains?
No. If no firm arrangements are proposed in the application, a time limit, normally of up to two years, will be specified in a licence or directions. For large and complex archaeological sites, a longer time limit may be specified if circumstances justify this; such cases should be discussed with Ministry of Justice.
Q5. Will it be possible to extend a time limit for re-interment if research has not be completed?
Yes, if circumstances make this reasonable. Apply to the Ministry of Justice, if possible before the expiry date on the licence (or directions).
Q6. Once study has been completed, will it be possible for remains to be deposited in a museum or church so that they are accessible for future research rather than re-interred?
This will be considered as part of the second stage of reform. It is intended that this should be possible, subject to appropriate conditions and safeguards, if acceptable and justified by circumstances.
Q7. Will remains from sites excavated under the DBG(A)A 1981 have to be re-interred within two months?
No. The Ministry of Justice is satisfied that the two month time limit specified in the Disused Burial Grounds (Amendment) Act 1981 relates to the time limit for reporting re-interment after re-interment has taken place. It does not impose a time limit between exhumation and re-interment, for which a time limit will be specified as in Q4.

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