The Bones Of Richard III

Readers of the bulletin will be aware of the recent discovery, disinterment and identification of what have now been clearly established to be the bones of King Richard III from the site of the former Greyfriars (Franciscan) Church in Leicester. Readers will also be aware of the controversy that has been aroused by the decision to reinter the remains in Leicester Cathedral and may be aware of the proposal that kinsmen of Richard III might bring proceedings for judicial review to challenge this decision.

We have no wish to take sides in this controversy. However readers may be interested in a glimpse of some of the legal issues involved.

It is understood that the remains were disinterred under the authority of a licence granted by the Secretary of State under section 25 of the Burial Act 1857. This section reads as follows:

"25 Bodies not to be removed from burial grounds, save under faculty, without licence of Secretary of State

Except in the cases where a body is removed from one consecrated place of burial to another by faculty granted by the ordinary for that purpose, it shall not be lawful to remove any body, or the remains of any body, which may have been interred in any place of burial, without licence under the hand of one of Her Majesty's Principal Secretaries of State, and with such precautions as such Secretary of State may prescribe as the condition of such licence; and any person who shall remove any such body or remains, contrary to this enactment, or who shall neglect to observe the precautions prescribed as the condition of the licence for removal, shall, on summary conviction before any two justices of the peace, forfeit and pay for every such offence a sum not exceeding level 1 on the standard scale."

There are certain other circumstances in which human remains may lawfully be disinterred, although the fact that remains are discovered during archaeological excavations does not in itself authorise their disinterment.

The very helpful account published on the University of Leicester website explains that the licence obtained from the Ministry of Justice grants permission to the University to exhume the remains stating:

"The remains shall, no later than 31 August 2014, be deposited at Jewry Wall Museum or else be reinterred at St Martin's Cathedral or in a burial ground in...

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