A coroner is at the High Court for a legal challenge against her decision to adopt a “cab rank” queuing system for burials.
Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for inner north London, established a policy so that deaths in her jurisdiction are dealt with on a first-come, first-served basis.
It says no death will be prioritised based on the religion of the deceased or their family by either the coroner or her officers.
The policy is being challenged at the court in London by religious groups who say it ignores “deeply held beliefs” which require their dead to be buried as soon as possible.
They argue Ms Hassell’s stance is unlawful and breaches the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act.
Lawyers told the court on Tuesday that Ms Hassell’s jurisdiction covers the boroughs of Camden, Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets, which between them have “sizeable” Jewish and Muslim minority populations.
Sam Grodzinski QC told the court there was evidence from Jewish and Muslim leaders that the policy has caused “widespread distress” among faith communities.
The barrister, representing the Adath Yisroel Burial Society, told the court his case was not that religious groups must come first, but that religious belief must be “conscientiously taken into account” by a coroner.
He added: “If the coroner’s officer knows that the family has a genuine religious need to hold the funeral of their loved one either later that day or the next day, this religious need cannot lawfully be excluded from the defendant’s consideration.
“And yet, the effect of the policy is that the Jewish or Muslim family must simply take their place in the cab rank queue – regardless of whether others require any urgent decision from the coroner.”
The hearing continues before Lord Justice Singh and Mrs Justice Whipple.