Susan Buckham 2019

Centre for Environment, Heritage and Policy, University of Stirling

The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016: What happens next?

Drawing from consultation responses and the policy guidance currently in progress, this paper will explore the likely short-term impact of the 2016 Scottish Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act on cemetery management practices. In 2016, the Scottish Government updated the primary legislation governing burial and cemetery management. This Act ended the tradition of burial in perpetuity, enabled grave reuse and sought to clarify procedures for burial authorities to deal with ‘ownerless’ graves and gravestones across all types of burial sites. Consequently, Scotland is the first country within the UK where grave reuse can take place across a range of burial sites. This includes historic churchyards, private family burial grounds and private and municipal cemeteries. Yet the implications of the Act are far from clear for cemetery management. The 2014 consultation prior to the introduction of the 2016 Act indicated mixed support among local authorities for the new measures, notable grave reuse. Only a small number of responses involved members of the ‘general public’, who also indicated a strong disinclination towards disturbing human remains. Another major issue in understanding the implications of the new law in practice lies in the fact that the 2016 Act is enabling legislation that lacks detailed information on how it will operate in practice. Presently the Scottish Government is developing a programme of guidance to frame how legislation will be implemented. However, the only topic completed to date is memorial health & safety. This paper will assess the strengths and weaknesses within the process of introducing the new burial legislation. I will seek to highlight where the main areas of uncertainty lie, highlight tensions between centrallyled change and local implementation and suggest which issues are the highest priorities to address going forward.


The Cemetery Research Group runs two events a year: in May and in November. Follow the links and send in an abstract