The London Local Authorities Act 2007 gives London boroughs the permission to ‘lift and deepen’. By this action, graves are excavated to the depth required by the new rite owner, and any remains are reburied in the same grave. Local authorities have to leave a period of at least 75 years after the last interment before re-using the grave.
The Act adapted existing regulations relating to the reclamation of graves. This happens when the family that owns the burial right cannot be contacted despite extensive attempts via letters, notices at the cemetery and notices in the local newspapers. Local authorities take back ownership of the burial right and can then use unused space in the grave, for example, where the grave has been dug to a depth to accommodate two burials but only one has taken place.
The London Local Authorities Act 2007 permits the re-use of graves:
(1) Where a burial authority has extinguished—
(a) a right of burial in a grave space under section 6 (power to extinguish rights of burial in cemetery lands) of the Act of 1969; or
(b) a right of interment in respect of a grave under section 9 of the Act of 1976,
the burial authority may disturb or authorise the disturbance of human remains interred in the grave for the purpose of increasing the space for interments in the grave.
(2) No human remains may be disturbed under this section if they have been interred for a period of less than 75 years.
(3) Any human remains disturbed under subsection (1) above must be reinterred in the grave. […]
London Local Authorities Act 2007 s74 (1-3)
At one London cemetery – the City of London, in Newham – the re-use of graves takes place under faculty in consecrated sections of the site under Ecclesiastical law. Here, the local authority disinters any remains, and reinters them in a ‘designated’ grave at the end of the row, so releasing the original grave for use by another family. The last interments in the re-used graves will have taken place at least eighty years ago.
The local authority conducts re-use according to strict protocols. The last interment will have taken place at least eighty years ago. No disturbance takes place of any remains more substantial than minor bone or coffin fragments. Any remains are placed in a hessian sack before being re-interred in the designated grave. In no instance are remains cremated or taken away from the site. Hundreds of graves have been made available for re-use using this process.
Press responses have been largely positive as these sites indicate:
In 2013, detailed guidance on re-use processes was produced by the London Environmental Directors Network.
A shorter summary guidance note is available from the ICCM.