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R v Sharp 1857 Dears & Bell 160

Wrongful entry to a burial ground and removal of remains from therein

Facts

The defendant was accused of breaking and entering a burial ground and removing the remains of his mother who was buried there. He did this under the pretext that he required that the grave be opened in order to assess whether the size of the grave would accommodate the coffin of his recently deceased father. He then took the remains of his mother to another churchyard where he intended to bury his father’s corpse with the remains of his mother. This was done without the knowledge or consent of the owners of the burial ground.

Issue

The jury was directed to convict at first instance. The defendant subsequently contended that the conviction was wrong. The Court was required to consider whether the defendant had acted wrongfully even where he had acted out of filial affection and religious duty.

Held

The Court subsequently affirmed the conviction. The defendant had committed trespass and obtained a licence to enter the burial ground by misleading the person responsible for said burial ground. The removal of the corpse was not justified by the defendant’s “estimable motives.” The Court stated that the law recognises no property in a corpse and referred to the protection afforded to graves at common law which must be respected. Nevertheless, although the court stated that the conviction should stand, the Judge handed down a nominal fine of one shilling on account of respect for the motives of the defendant.


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