A Modern Framework for Disposing of the Dead

Current project status

  • Initiation: Could include discussing scope and terms of reference with lead Government Department
  • Pre-consultation: Could include approaching interest groups and specialists, producing scoping and issues papers, finalising terms of project
  • Consultation: Likely to include consultation events and paper, making provisional proposals for comment
  • Policy development: Will include analysis of consultation responses. Could include further issues papers and consultation on draft Bill
  • Reported: Usually recommendations for law reform but can be advice to government, scoping report or other recommendations

Bringing the law governing how we dispose of the bodies of our loved ones when they die into line with modern needs.

The problem

The law governing how we dispose of the bodies of our loved ones when they die is unfit for modern needs.

While we often think of the choice as being between burial and cremation, new methods of disposal are being developed and used in other countries which are completely unregulated here.

Further, the legislation governing more traditional methods of disposal is outdated, piecemeal and complex.

The law does not ensure that a person’s own wishes as to the disposal of their remains are carried out, leading to disputes where family members disagree. Disputes also arise as to entitlement to a person’s remains.

The project

This project came out of our 13th Programme of Law Reform.

To identify the issues we will consider, the project is starting with a scoping phase which will enable us to agree detailed terms of reference with Government.

Generally, however, this project will seek to create a future-proof legal framework for disposal of the dead. We expect it will include a review of the laws governing burials and cremation and consideration of the creation of a regulatory framework for safe and dignified new processes. We expect that it will also consider the legal status of a person’s wishes about what happens to their body following death as well as the rules governing who else has the right to make decisions about disposal of the deceased’s body.

This project will not consider the regulation of funeral directors, death certification, preservation of bodies (such as by cryopreservation), or the criminal law relating to the desecration of a body.

Next steps

This project began in December 2022. The project is starting with a scoping phase which will enable us to agree the terms of reference for the project with Government. Once the scope of the project has been established, we will set out more detailed plans for work.



For general enquiries, please contact us by email at dod@lawcommission.gov.uk


Project details

Area of law

Property, family and trust law


Professor Nicholas Hopkins