Jewish community representatives have told Justice Minister Phillip Lee that a senior London coroner who refuses to release bodies earlier for religious reasons “must be made accountable for her actions”.
The warning came from Board of Deputies’ vice-president Marie Van Der Zyl about Senior Coroner for Inner North London Mary Hassell, whose “cab-rank rule” for releasing bodies has infuriated Jewish and Muslim communities.
“As part of an interfaith and cross-party delegation, I made it clear to Justice Minister Dr Phillip Lee MP that [Hassell] lacks any respect for the diverse communities she is meant to serve,” said van der Zyl.
“I urged him that Ms Hassell must be made accountable for her actions, which are causing so much distress. Dr Lee said he took the views of the Jewish and Muslim communities very seriously, and would be speaking to the Chief Coroner, His Honour Judge Mark Lucraft QC, about the meeting.”
Lucraft originally felt Hassell’s policy was “excellent” but changed his mind last month, telling a judicial review that he felt it was “unlawful”. He does not have the power to dismiss senior coroners, who are independent judges.
Earlier this week Lee was asked by colleagues in the House of Commons whether the government had plans to change the remit of the Chief Coroner.
He said: “We have no plans to change the remit of the Chief Coroner, nor to amend the accountability of coroners, or the complaints procedures in relation to the conduct of coroners.”
Lee argued that judicial office holders, including coroners, “must be independent and free from external influence in the exercise of their judicial functions,” adding: “These are fundamental principles for the protection of the rule of law and the constitutional separation of powers.”
He further confirmed that complaints against the conduct of a Coroner, “as with any other judge, are considered by the Judicial Complaints and Investigations Office while a coroner’s decision may be subject to challenge in the courts by way of a judicial review”.