Bereavement information – Greece: murder, manslaughter and suspicious deaths
Information and advice if a family member or friend has been a victim of murder, manslaughter or died in suspicious circumstances in Greece.
This information is to help you understand what you need to do if a British national has been a victim of murder or manslaughter or died in suspicious circumstances in Greece and you are the next of kin.
Practices in Greece may vary locally and from case to case, and you should consider consulting a local lawyer for independent legal advice.
You should also read our general guidance on what you need to do if you are bereaved through murder or manslaughter abroad, and what support the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can provide.
Post mortems (autopsies)
A post mortem is mandatory for murder, manslaughter or suspicious deaths. The deceased is usually only retained for the length of time required to complete the post mortem, after which they can then be released for burial, repatriation or cremation. This may differ in the case of a suspected crime.
The police or medical examiner will conduct the identification but in some cases you may be asked to assist with the identification. The British embassy can ask the medical examiner’s (coroner) office for information on the cause of death, but they are not obliged to give us that information.
Access to information concerning a death (eg post mortem) and police reports is restricted. The Greek authorities will not normally provide this information directly to next of kin, or to third parties including the FCO. You should make requests for this information through a legal representative.
During a post mortem the Greek medical examiner may decide to remove organs or tissue samples for further examination to establish the cause of death. This is at the discretion of the medical examiner and required by Greek law. Next of kin consent is not required and next of kin are not normally informed.
The British embassy can approach the medical examiner’s office on your behalf to ask whether organs/tissue samples have been removed for examination although the authorities are not obliged to give us that information. Any organs removed are retained for the duration of the tests, after which they are normally destroyed. The deceased’s body can be buried or returned to the UK before tests on removed organs are completed.
If you want to request the return of any organs which have been removed, you will need to appoint by power of attorney either a lawyer or a funeral director in Greece. They can approach the respective medical examiner’s office with an application for the organ(s) to be returned to you once tests and reports are finalised. There are costs involved and this is a lengthy administrative procedure.
Prior to repatriation the deceased will be embalmed and placed in a zinc-lined coffin, sealed by customs officials. Sometimes local embalming methods mean that the full range of tests cannot be done if a second post mortem is requested. Embalming procedures may have an impact on the efficacy of any subsequent post mortems, for example, if one is ordered by a coroner in England or Wales.
Burial and cremation
Under Greek law, a deceased person must be buried within 30 days of death. In the case of foreign nationals the authorities will normally allow as much time as necessary. A local burial can take place within a few days. Mortuary facilities across Greece are basic.
It is standard procedure in some cemeteries in Greece for remains to be exhumed after three years from the time of burial. Remains are then placed in a charnel house (a smaller box) which is situated in the cemetery for which there is a yearly fee. A yearly maintenance fee is payable to the cemetery administration for grave upkeep. The person who pays this fee will be informed by the cemetery administration when exhumation must take place. This is not optional. We advise you to seek further information on these procedures from the local undertaker if you are considering a local burial in Greece.
Cremation is not currently possible in Greece. Although legislation has been passed to allow cremation, no crematoriums have yet been established. A funeral director in Greece will be able to offer advice about cremations in neighbouring countries. You should consult your local or international funeral director for advice if you want to arrange cremation.
If you were present at the time of death you may be asked to give a statement to the police. This may be some time after the incident and notification would normally be in the form of a court summons. The British embassy can advise on the process if a summons is received. Medical examiner reports can take time to be completed and are part of the judicial file.
The investigation stage is confidential and therefore access to information is restricted. The police will not share information on their investigation directly with the FCO, with bereaved families or a lawyer. By becoming a civil claimant a member of the victim’s family or an appointed lawyer can apply to the investigating magistrate for access to the file.
Local judicial process
The judicial process in Greece can be very slow and hearings and trials can take months or years to complete. The Greek state will prosecute automatically in the case of suspected murder or manslaughter and will summon defendants and witnesses as required. Postponements of trials are common and hearings may be repeatedly postponed.
You should appoint a local lawyer to advise you on the process for applying to become a civil claimant. A civil claimant can access information via a lawyer, or they can instruct a lawyer to take action on their behalf for the purpose of the judicial hearing; for example they can summon extra witnesses or file for compensation.
If there is insufficient evidence for a prosecution the case will be filed but not closed. A serious case can be filed but not closed for 20 years when it will be archived. It will only be re-opened if new evidence comes to light. If a murder or manslaughter case is filed and no one is found guilty but you consider that there are grounds for further investigation, you can approach the President of the Court.
A lawyer is not necessarily needed for this but recommended if you don’t speak Greek. A lawyer will be able to advise you on the legal process. With the help of an interpreter or a local lawyer, the President of the Court will evaluate your concerns and consider whether or not the investigation should be reopened.
- if the cause of death is not clear, a death certificate will be issued reflecting this
- the British embassy press section may be able to advise on dealing with the local media if there is press interest around a case or hearing. Contact a British embassy or consulate abroad
- Greece is a signatory to the European Council directive on compensation for victims of violent crimes. The Greek Ministry of Justice accepts applications for compensation for victims of violent crimes committed in Greece. You will need to seek advice from the CICA EU Compensation Assistance Team. Read more information about compensation for victims of crime abroad
- British nationals without the available means to appoint legal representation can apply for legal aid in most European countries. Read more about the Legal Services Commission in London for legal aid applications abroad
- Read more information about the procedures following a death in Greece