Scottish Government Consultation on Burials and Cemeteries

I received notification today that the Scottish Government is currently undertaking a public consultation on issues connected with burials, cremations and the management of cemeteries. If you have Scottish ancestry, as I do, then you might be interested in reading the consultation paper.


Gravestone of James Hadden and family, St. Peter’s Cemetery, Aberdeen, Scotland

The government in Scotland is looking to “modernized” the legislation that governs burials and cremations while also addressing some related issues. There certainly seems to be a solid case for the need of updated legislation as the current Burial Act was enacted in 1855. The Cremation Act came into effect in 1902 and has been updated occasionally through regulatory changes as recent as 2003. It seems the government would also like to leave room for future funeral technologies such as resomation and promession.

It was common practice that a grave plot, or lair as it would be referred to in Scotland, was purchased by family members in perpetuity for the burial (or disposal) of the bodies of loved ones. The family was typically responsible for the maintenance of the cemetery plot. With the passage of time, however, the maintenance of the cemetery plot was often abandoned by the family as members moved away from the area over several generations. With the current added pressure of limited cemetery space, the government is looking at the practice of reusing cemetery plots.

The reuse of cemetery plots is not new and the consultation paper states that the practice is used in Germany, Sweden, Italy and Greece. The paper further cites the case of the City of London (England) Cemetery and Crematorium where about 1,000 graves have been reused.

The Scottish Government is proposing to discontinue the sale of cemetery plots in perpetuity and rather, provide for the ‘lease’ of a cemetery plot for a period of 25 years with further 10 year extensions to the lease allowed. The goal of this approach would be to ensure that a family member was taking responsibility for the plot’s maintenance. It is also proposed that cemetery plots be reused in cases where the last burial in the plot was at least 75 ago and the owner of the plot cannot be traced. Prior to reuse, a cemetery would be required to advertise it’s plan to reuse the plot through various media including the Internet for a period of twelve months. If a family member objected to the reuse, the family member would need to be prepared to assume plot maintenance responsibility.

In circumstances when a plot is reused, the original gravestone or memorial marker would remain, maintained by the cemetery owner, but a new memorial marker would be allowed on the plot for the new burial(s). Rules are also proposed for a “dig and deeper” approach to plot reuse that would involve exhumation of remains, placement of the remains in a “new container” and re-burial of the container at a deeper depth to allow new burials.

What might be of interest to genealogists is the question of how long burial and cremation records should be kept? The government already encourages the use of electronic records but asks the question about how long they should be required to be maintained. Do they need to be maintained in perpetuity or is 50 years long enough?

The consultation runs until April 24th, 2015 and I would encourage everyone, especially those with Scottish ancestry to read the consultation paper and provide input. And, I need to start thinking about what I would do if they ever want to reuse my 4X great grandfather James Hadden’s final resting place (pictured above)!