A Government spokesman this week said coroners should be doing what they can to accommodate religious families who place importance on a quick burial, increasing pressure on a north London coroner accused of insensitivity.
The latest salvo came from Dr Phillip Lee, Parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Ministry of Justice, in response to a question about coroners’ duties in respect of religious beliefs that require speedy burial.
He said coroners should “take account where possible of individuals’ views and expectations, including family and community preferences, traditions and religious requirements”.
The official guidance, outlined in response to a question from Labour’s Warley MP John Spellar, seems at odds with the stance taken by North London Senior Coroner Mary Hassell, who Jewish groups last week said should be sacked.
Hassell, based at King’s Cross, this month insisted that no death would be prioritised on religious grounds, adding that there were insufficient resources to provide an out-of-hours service, as recommended by the UK’s Chief Coroner in his 2016-17 report.
While Lee said that out-of-hours services would normally be “on a light-touch basis,” he added that “in some areas an out-of-hours service will require more, particularly in order to assist families who seek early burial for their loved ones”.
In addition, Lee said the Ministry of Justice’s own guidance says that “the coroner’s office will take account where possible of individuals’ views and expectations, including family and community preferences, traditions and religious requirements relating to mourning, post-mortem examinations and funerals”.
The Stamford Hill based Adath Yisrael Burial Society (AYBS) last week demanded that Hassell be sacked, citing her “bureaucracy, inflexibility and unnecessary delays” which “offend traditional and/or religious practices”.