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Rights Of The Deceased And The Pandemic

Updated: Jan 15

As the COVID-19 issue is affecting most parts of the country and the death rates are on a continuous rise, what will happen to the dead bodies is a pressing issue which the country is facing currently. The law’s treatment of human remains has always been based on two things:

(1) respect for the dead, and

(2) Public health concerns about bodily decay and the risk of spreading disease. Currently, although all possible steps have been taken to uphold respect for the dead, in this pandemic, emphasis inevitably shifts to public health.

The Corona Virus Act, 2020 is emergency legislation passed by the UK parliament to deal with the COVID outbreak that could affect up to 80% of the UK population. The act introduces a range of powers that could allow public bodies to respond to the emergency. This along with other governmental measures will have a significant impact on what happens to the dead and the manner of how funerals would be conducted in the coming weeks and months. Here are some of the guidelines-

1. Family-only funerals

According to the lockdown provisions which unfolded in the country from March 23, 2020, the funeral of the deceased would include only the immediate relatives. This can help the country to maintain proper social distancing norms as it would limit the attendees to a smaller number of people and the cemetery staff who will play a key role as the mortality rates rise. Though the possibility of live streaming is an option it will have a negative social impact as last rites are an essential part of the grieving process.

2. Death registrations

Usually, deaths are registered by the family members who attend the office of the registrar in person but a waiver has been made to submit documents electronically to speed up the process of documentation. Further, When a doctor certifies the cause of death as Coronavirus, the rule of a second examination by another doctor to check the validity of documents for the certificate, has been relaxed in order to speed things up.

3. Scrapping inquests

Deaths by certain diseases trigger jury inquests as a matter of law. In such a situation jury members hear evidence and investigate how the deceased could have died. The current legislation removes this legal requirement for jury inquests for confirmed or suspected COVID-19 deaths, as it takes a long time to carry out. Delay due to inquests during the pandemic is traumatic for families of COVID-19 victims.

4. Transporting, storing and dealing with bodies

Local authorities have been given extensive powers under the new regime to ensure that bodies are treated with the utmost care, respect and that the system does not become inundated with unneeded formalities. In the UK, local authorities have now requested organizations to help in transporting and storing dead bodies. Additional facilities are even been set up to handle the massive volume of deaths such as -. increased space for graves will be set up and crematoria may have to increase their operating hours to cope with the influx of bodies.


Every society prides itself on how it treats the dead and it is hoped that more radical measures would be contemplated under the Coronavirus Act. Yet, in a time of such fear and uncertainty, when governments worldwide are adopting emergency powers to protect their citizens, there are no guarantees with respect to any person living. However, due to pandemic, the way we deal with the dead will change, and especially funerals, as we know them, will regrettably but necessarily, be another of the social rituals that will be radically altered in the short term.


Anmol Gilra is currently a 2nd-year student of 3 years LLB course from Rizvi Law College.

You can contact him at http://linkedin.com/in/anmol-gilra-6b938410b

Editor: Jayant Upadhyay

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