People's burial wishes should be registered to avoid arguments, say legal experts

Proposals follow High Court judges' decision to keep Richard III's body in Leicester, rather than move it to York

Whether it's wanting to be buried in a biodegradable coffin, having your ashes scattered over Anfield, or being laid to rest in a royal crypt, most of us have strong feelings about what happens to our bodies after death. Now legal experts are proposing to make those wishes legally binding for the first time.

The proposals come in the wake of the High Court judges' decision to keep Richard III's body in Leicester, rather than move it to York because he had not expressed clear burial wishes.

Thomas Muinzer, a legal researcher at Queen's University Belfast and author of The Law of the Dead, has recommended that contemporary requests written in wills, burial letters and pre-paid funeral plans, should be legally binding so that individuals can ensure what happens to their bodies when they die.

"If the High Court judges could find historical evidence of Richard III's burial wishes then they would have had to consider them," he said. "That is the whole crux of the contemporary issue – whether to go with wishes or ignore them – it is right at the heart of burial law and the questions we are asking," he added. "You have a right to donate your body to science, but you don't have the right to say, 'I want to be cremated.' There is a disparity there.

"Burial wishes don't have legal weight, and those responsible for the duty to bury may not follow them. For example, if a child converts faith, the parents may decide to bury them in accordance with their own traditions regardless of how the deceased chose to live."

According to current UK law, decisions regarding the burial of the deceased usually fall on a hierarchy which starts with the deceased's spouse and moves on to children, parents, siblings and extended relations. This means that judges face impossible decisions where equal duty to bury is given to two conflicting parties.

As well as wills, burial letters, pre-paid funeral plans and witnessed oral direction, Mr Muinzer recommends a legally binding online burial register, similar to that of the NHS organ donor register.

Sean Healy, a funeral director in Belfast, said that religious differences, including whether a Catholic or Protestant service should be held, could be solved by legislation: "If a family member comes in, it is up to them to let us be privy to the wishes; but if wishes were given in a legal way, that would be helpful. It would mean there were no grey areas."

In 2010, Baba Davender Kumar Ghai won a four-year campaign at the Court of Appeal which ruled that he was legally allowed to receive a traditional Hindu funeral pyre when he died. The Newcastle resident backed further changes to improve individual rights. He said: "I am happy that I will be allowed to have the ritual I wanted; but if I die, my son might turn around and say, 'I don't want an open-air funeral; I want a cremation because that only takes one hour rather than two days.'"

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "We are not currently considering these proposals, but burial law and policy is kept under regular review."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor