Guidance

Death of a British National in France

Information on what to do in the event of the death of a British national in France, including the coroner and post mortem processes

Deaths in France

The death of a relative or a friend can be a traumatic experience. When the death occurs overseas, family and friends in the UK can feel additional distress as they are unfamiliar with foreign procedures and perhaps are unable to communicate in the language of the country where the death occurred. Consular Directorate at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and our consulates in France are ready to assist and provide advice where they can. You may be uncertain about what to do next or who to contact for advice. These notes are designed to help you through the practical arrangements you will need to make. You should be aware that French procedures differ significantly to those in the United Kingdom and that, while we understand your need for arrangements to be made quickly, this is not always possible.

Whilst care has been taken in compiling these notes, no legal liability for their contents is accepted by the British Embassy.

Repatriation and burial

A relative or a formally appointed representative must instruct a funeral director in France or the UK for a body to be repatriated to the UK or buried or cremated in France. If the deceased was insured you should contact the insurance company who will be able to make the necessary arrangements. If there is no insurance cover, funds for repatriation or burial will need to be met by the family. Neither the Foreign and Commonwealth Office nor our consulates in France have budgets to meet these costs.

A medical certificate certifying the death is issued by the local doctor and serves as a burial permit. A death is registered at the ‘mairie’ (town hall) in the locality in which it occurred. A relative or their formally appointed representative usually registers the death. This, however, can also be carried out by a local firm of undertakers. A certified copy of the entry is usually issued immediately if all necessary details are available. These certificates will normally be in French but it is possible to ask for multilingual certificates (which include English). No fee is charged for the medical certificate or for the registration. French death certificates, however, do not show the cause of death. In France there is no central registry corresponding to the General Registry Offices in the UK.

Although not obligatory, it is possible to register the death of a British national who has died in France with UK authorities. This service carries a statutory consular fee.

Repatriation of ashes to UK

In order to repatriate ashes you should travel with the cremation certificate and the death certificate in order to present these to the airline and/or HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs). The urn must have been sealed by the French Police/Gendarmerie.

Coroners

When a body is repatriated to England or Wales from France, a coroner will only hold an inquest if the death was violent or unnatural or if the death was sudden and the cause unknown. As the cause of death is not given on the French registration certificate, the coroner may order a post mortem as part of the inquest (even if a post mortem has already been carried out in France). The coroner does not have access to the French judicial file. He may however request a copy of the French police and post mortem reports through Consular Directorate. However these reports will only be provided once the judicial process (if any) has been completed and the death is no longer sub judice. In some cases this can take several months.

If there is no requirement for a coroner to become involved and a cremation is to be carried out, a cremation order will need to be obtained from the Home Office. An application for the order is usually made by the local undertaker. There is no equivalent order required for burials.

Coroners in Northern Ireland are not obliged to hold an inquest into the cause of death, but next of kin can apply for a judicial review if an inquest has been decided against.

Under the CREMATION (SCOTLAND) REGULATIONS 1935 AND 1952, a permit for cremation must be obtained from the Scottish Executive in Edinburgh. Coroners do not exist in Scotland and there are no special formalities for a burial there.

Police and judicial inquiries

Inquiries are not held when the doctor who certifies a death is satisfied that no suspicious circumstances exist and the death was due to natural causes. However, an inquiry is held when the death occurs in a public place, eg in the street or at a hotel, or when foul play is suspected. In such cases the responsibility for issuing the burial permit lies with the Public Prosecutor (Procureur de la Republique) at the local high court (Tribunal de Grande Instance).

The police or gendarmerie are involved at this stage and hold an initial inquiry. A medical expert commissioned by the court (medecin legiste) must inspect the body and decide whether or not to issue the medical certificate. If in doubt, they will not issue the certificate and will report the case to the procureur. In either case, the procureur can order a post mortem and further police inquiries. If a post mortem or further forensic tests are ordered by the procureur, this may delay the issue of the burial permit. If they suspect, or the post mortem indicates, foul play, ie murder, they will refer the case to an examining magistrate (Juge d’Instruction). The latter will conduct a full investigation and can summon witnesses, commission further investigations by the police (either judicial or criminal) / gendarmerie or forensic examinations, and send inquiries (by way of a commission rogatoire) to other, including foreign, authorities. They aim to reach conclusions about the cause and circumstances of the death, and if they conclude that there has been foul play they may charge one or more persons with criminal offences. This inquiry can take many months to complete.

Murder, manslaughter, unlawful death, or death in suspicious circumstances

In the event of death which is not accidental or caused by natural causes, or where it cannot be determined that the death was accidental or caused by natural causes, an investigation into the cause of death will be undertaken by the Police or Gendarmerie under the authority of an Examining Magistrate. The investigation, while it remains a judicial inquiry, remains confidential and third parties are not usually privy to any information about the case. This includes Consular officers. In order to apply for access to information about the investigation, interested parties must apply through a lawyer to the court to be made civil parties to the proceedings. See Legal advice and release of information below.

Part of the investigation will necessarily involve a post mortem. It is not uncommon for internal organs of the body to be removed and for them to be retained by the authorities for forensic examination and to be used as evidence in the event of anyone being charged with criminal offences. There is no requirement under French law for the organs to be returned to the body - even when the body is released to the family for burial or cremation. (See Post mortems below). In some circumstances, the public prosecutor, who remains in overall charge of the investigation, may give permission for the body to be released to the family for burial but may expressly forbid cremation (this can take several weeks or months). This is sometimes the case when the cause of death is not fully established or where the cause is known but, as in the case of murder, manslaughter, or unlawful death, no-one has been charged with criminal offences in connection with the death.

It should be noted that investigations into deaths in these circumstances can take several weeks or months to complete. If subsequent criminal charges are brought against a person or persons in connection with the death, it can take several months or years before the case is heard by a court.

Inquiries into deaths in France are not public. In order to have access to the investigation and obtain information from the magistrate’s file, interested parties must apply through a lawyer to the court to be made civil parties (partie civile) to the proceedings. A list of English speaking lawyers in France is available on this website. The court will decide which applications for partie civile are valid. Consular staff do not have access to a judicial inquiry and cannot give legal advice.

Even in the most routine cases, such as death from natural causes in ordinary circumstances, there is no routine way of obtaining official confirmation of the medical cause of death. The doctor who certifies the death will not usually provide a medical certificate which states anything other than that he has medically certified the death.

Post mortems

A post mortem is usually carried out at the Legal Medical Institute (Institut Medico Legal (IML)). A guide in english has been produced by the IML in Paris and can be found here. Only medical staff and the police and/or magistrate in charge of the investigation can attend. It is often the case that the Institute will hold certain organs and samples in the event that further tests might be required at a future stage of the investigation. French judicial authorities do not require the authority of the family to retain body parts if they are deemed necessary for the investigation. However, should the magistrate in charge of the case decide that they are no longer required, it is possible for the family to make a request in writing for their release.

British nationals who have court cases in France, and are unable to engage the services of a lawyer privately, are entitled to apply for legal aid (aide juridictionelle). Legal aid can be either full or partial, depending mainly on the applicant’s income and family circumstances.

A person in France applies to the Procureur de la Republique at the Tribunal de Grande Instance in the district where he lives. A person in the United Kingdom may apply in the same way as if the legal action contemplated were in the UK. The European Agreement on the Transmission of Applications for Legal Aid, to which both the UK and France are parties, provides that each party shall have one or more transmitting authorities to forward applications for legal aid to the appropriate foreign authority. The transmitting authorities for the United Kingdom are the Legal Services Commission (England and Wales), the Scottish Legal Aid Central Committee (Scotland), and the Incorporated Law Society of Northern Ireland (N. Ireland).

Victim support

‘Institut National d’Aide aux Victimes et de Médiation’ (INAVEM) in France is a similar organisation to Victim Support in the United Kingdom. They can advise and help victims and/or their close relatives and guide them through some aspects of the judicial process. They can also help with claims for compensation.

They do not, however, take the place of a lawyer as they do not have access to the judicial file. There is a branch of INAVEM attached to each Tribunal de Grande Instance and address and telephone details can be obtained from the court.

Useful addresses

Organisation Address Telephone Website
Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Consular Directorate King Charles St, City of Westminster, London SW1A 2AH +44(0) 20 7008 1500 www.gov.uk
British Embassy Paris Consular Section, 16 rue d’Anjou, 75008, Paris +33 (0)1 44 51 31 00 www.gov.uk/government/world/france
British Consulate Bordeaux 353 Boulevard du Président Wilson, 33073 Bordeaux Cedex +33 (0)5 57 22 21 10 www.gov.uk/government/world/france
British Consulate-General Marseille 24 Avenue du Prado, 13006 Marseille +33 (0)4 91 15 72 10 www.gov.uk/government/world/france
Incorporated Law Society of Northern Ireland Bedford House, 16-22 Bedford Street, Belfast BT2 7FL +44 (0)1232 246441 www.lawsoc-ni.org
Scottish Executive, Public Health Policy St Andrew’s House, Regent Road, Edinburgh EH11 3XD +44 (0)131 244 2501 www.sehd.scot.nhs.uk
Legal Services Commission 85 Gray’s Inn Road, London WC1X 8TX +44 (0)20 7759 0000131 www.justice.gov.uk/legal-aid
Scottish Legal Aid Central Committee 44 Drumsheigh Gardens, Edinburgh EH3 7SW +44 (0)131 226 7061 www.slab.org.uk
Victim Support Cranmer House, 39 Brixton Road, London SW9 6DZ44 +44 (0)845 3030 900 www.victimsupport.org
Institut National d’Aide aux Victimes et de Médiation 14 rue Ferrus, 75014 Paris +33 (0)1 45 88 19 00 www.inavem.org
Bereavement Support Network of the Var   +33 (0) 94 84 64 89 www.bsnvar.org

International funeral directors

Every care has been taken compiling this list. However, neither Her Majesty’s Government nor the British Embassy in Paris can act as guarantor of the competence or probity of any particular company, nor can they be held responsible in any way for consequences arising from advice accepted or action initiated.

All the below companies can take calls in English.

Companies based in the United Kingdom:

Funeral Director Address Telephone/fax E-mail/Website
Co-Operative Funeral care international 50 Whitta Road, Manor Park, London, E12 5DA +44(0) 208 788 5303 www.co-operative.coop/funeralcare
Albin International Repatriation 83 Westbourne Grove, London, W2 4UL +44(0) 20 7313 6920 info@albininternational.com www.albininternational.com
Haven Repatriation Services 13 The Broadway, Gunnersbury Lane, London, W3 8HR +44(0) 20 8993 8767 info@havenfunerals.com www.havenfunerals.com
Rowland Brothers International 299-305 Whitehorse Rd, Croydon, CR0 2HR +44(0) 20 8684 2324, 020 8684 1667 info@rowlandbrothersinternational.co.uk www.rowlandbrothersinternational.co.uk
National Association Of Funeral Directors 618 Warwick Road, Solihull, B91 1AAR +44(0) 121 711 1343, +44(0)121 711 1351 info@nafd.org.uk www.nafd.org.uk

Companies based in France:

Funeral Director Address Telephone/fax E-mail/Website
PFG Rapatriement OGF, PFG Rapatriement, 31 rue de Cambrai, 75019 Paris +33 1 53 26 64 50, Fax +33 1 55 26 64 37 pfgrapatriements@ogf.fr www.pfg.fr
Anubis International Assistance 2 rue du Té, Zone de Fret 4, 95705 Roissy, CDG Cedex +33 1 49 19 59 60, Fax +33 1 49 47 19 01 www.anubis.fr
Henri de Borniol 50, boulevard Malesherbes, 75008 Paris Tel +33 1 45 22 30 30, Fax +33 1 45 22 09 34 Agence-Paris8-1@HENRI-DE-BORNIOL.FR
Published 10 June 2013
Last updated 17 July 2014 + show all updates
  1. Added new paragraph on murder and manslaughter.
  2. First published.