Court Rules In Favor of Atheist to Exhume Daughter

Natalie Maynro is licensed under CC BY-2.0

The judge granted the request on genuine mistake grounds

Judge Lyndsey de Mestre, QC, the Deputy Chancellor of Diocese of St, Albans, has given permission to Mrs. Beverley Wilson and Michael Hugill, her ex-husband, parents of Elizabeth "Lizzie" Hugill, a 10-month-old girl who died in 1982, to transfer her cremated remains to a different plot. Both her parents are atheists and do not want their daughter to remain buried in the consecrated ground as the occurrence clashes with their atheist views.

This judgment is notable as permission of any exhumation from any consecrated ground is rarely granted by the Consistory Court. This is because the philosophy of the Church of England asserts that a final resting place should be literally final. Only the duress of exceptional circumstances or a genuine mistake could change that. This is why the judge took into account the parents' atheistic beliefs and consequently ruled that since both of them were unaware of their daughter being buried in consecrated ground, they could be granted their wish. The church law stated a genuine mistake in the case and permitted an exhumation of the remains.

The parents of Lizzie were at that time too distressed to make the funeral arrangements. Mr. Hugill's parents arranged the location of the grave. The mistake came to light only when the child's mother wanted her own ashes to be placed in the same location as that of her infant daughter. The parents came to know in October 2017 and thus filed an application in the Consistory Court. Mrs. Wilson and Mr. Hugill, although divorced, reunited to make the necessary plea. They want Lizzie's ashes to be reburied at the Ramsey Road Cemetery located in St. Ives, Cambridgeshire. The mother is a St. Ives resident.

Judge Lyndsey de Mestre acquiesced to their request. She said that as per Christian theology and its accompanying tradition, the view is that internment of the cremated remains should be taken as the act of committing all the departed's mortal remains into God's hands. She noted that in this case, the Consistory Court followed all regulations and "rigorously upheld" permanence of the Christian burial. The Judge also noted the exceptional circumstances of the case, and thus the court could accede to the exhumation request. She pointed out that fundamental mistakes were made with regard to the arrangements for the internment of the baby's remains. She expressed concern about the condition of the coffin buried 35 years ago but added that a funeral director has declared this matter a "feasible" one.


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