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Burying King Richard III: What About the Wishes of the Deceased?

Friday, 27 September 2013

Last February regal remains were found buried beneath the not so regal location of a car park in Leicester. The remains were that of King Richard III. The discovery was made 527 years after his death at the battle of Bosworth Field.

The University of Leicester were granted a licence by the Ministry of Justice in order to exhume and rebury the remains before 31 August 2014. The licence permitted the body to be buried at Leicester Cathedral or at an alternative burial ground in Leicester. However, a number of distant relatives of the late King have been granted permission to seek judicial review of the decision to bury the King in Leicester.

Why is there a Judicial Review?

Judicial Review is a legal doctrine whereby a judge can review the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body. Judicial review seeks to review the manner in which a decision has been made. In this case, the lawfulness of the decision to bury King Richard III in Leicester is at issue, as his relatives seek an alternative burial fit for a King.

The discovery of a King in such circumstances is without precedent in English Law. Justice Haddon-Cave granted the judicial review but warned against the parties engaging in an undignified legal tussle.

The judge held that at common law there was a duty to consult widely as to where the regal remains should be laid to rest. The judge held that the Government should have consulted a wide range of individuals and groups, including: living descendants, civic and ecclesiastical bodies, the Queen and UK citizens who have a special interest in where a former King of England should be buried.

It was also held that the King's own wishes, in so far as they can be ascertained or inferred, ought to be taken into account.

The judge also acknowledged the economic interests that need to be considered such as tourism.

The Wishes of the Deceased

The case raises an interesting point regarding the wishes of the deceased in relation to their body after death. Legally the decision is not bound by the wishes of the deceased King.

Under English law there is no property in a body, therefore King Richard III's relatives cannot legally claim any rights over his body. The executors of the King's will have a right to possession of his body and a duty to dispose of it how they so wish. Therefore the disposal of the body is not bound by either the King's wishes or that of his relatives.

Since it has been over 500 years since the King's death, the executors of the King's will are unlikely to be around to make the decision about his burial. The likely outcome is that the reasonable wishes of relatives, the King's own wishes and the place with which he was associated with will be taken into account.

It is estimated that 20 generations later possibly as many as 17 million people may have one of King Richard's relatives in their family tree, therefore it will also be likely that the Court will take into account the wishes of the public as well as the Queen.

For more information about estate planning for you or members of your family contact Peter Gourri today by email or telephone 0207 611 4848.

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