Chief Coroner issues new guidance on burials in wake of Mary Hassell verdict

Chief Coroner issues new guidance on burials in wake of Mary Hassell verdict

New advice says 'respect should be given.. based on religious belief' following ruling that 'cab rank' burial policy was unlawful

Mary Hassell

Credit: Faith Matters
Mary Hassell Credit: Faith Matters

The Chief Coroner has issued new guidance on the release of bodies for burial after the High Court last month held that coroners “cannot lawfully exclude religious reasons for seeking expedition of decisions”.

Guidance No. 28, titled ‘Report of death to the Coroner: decision making and expedited decisions,’ came about after the “cab-rank rule” policy of Mary Hassell, the Senior Coroner for Inner North London, were deemed “unlawful”.

According to lawyers involved with the legal challenge, the Chief Coroner’s new guidance says that “proper respect should be given to representations based on religious belief,” including by considering whether a particular case should be “treated as a matter of urgency…for religious…reasons”.

Hassell had warned of the “significant negative impact that prioritisation of one sector of the community over others,” saying: “Queue jumping places those who are pushed back further in the queue at a material disadvantage.”

She told the Judges at the Judicial Review that her policy had only interpreted guidance from the Chief Coroner in 2014, which stated that “the law does not allow any coroner to give priority to any one person over another”.

However, the new guidance states that “some faith groups, particularly Jewish and Muslim, have religious and cultural wishes about treatment of a body and burial following a death… Coroners should pay appropriate respect to those wishes”.

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Reacting to the new guidance was Asher Gratt, who spearheaded the judicial review proceedings for the Adath Yisroel Burial Society. He said: “We are very grateful to the Chief Coroner for issuing this new guidance in light of the High Court’s decision.

“The guidance makes clear that a coroner must give due regard to religious wishes about death and burial. Other coroners already treat faith communities with dignity. We hope that Ms Hassell will now follow suit.”

Trevor Asserson of Asserson Law Offices, who represented the claimants, said the new guidance was “extremely helpful“.

He added: “It makes clear that a request for prioritisation on religious grounds will always constitute a ‘well-founded request for expedition.’ In exercising their judicial functions, coroners must consider religious wishes and strike a fair balance between the rights of religious families and the interests of other families.”

A spokesperson for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said: “Jewish families will welcome the Chief Coroner’s new guidance, which instructs coroners to give due regard to religious needs in deciding in which order to process cases. Plainly stating this common sense approach should assist Senior Coroner for Inner North London Mary Hassell. Her misguided ‘cab-rank’ rule, which has caused so much pain to Jewish and Muslim families, was recently overturned in the courts.”

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