The Chief Coroner has issued new guidance on “expedited decisions” after Senior Inner London Coroner Mary Hassell lost a legal battle with a Jewish burial society.
The new diktat was published in the same week that Hassell was ordered to pay legal costs of £68,000 after her ‘cab-rank rule’ policy of releasing bodies for burial was judged unlawful in a court hearing earlier this year.
The 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,” adding: “Coroners should pay appropriate respect to those wishes.”
It follows the court’s ruling that it was unlawful for a coroner to adopt a policy ruling out the possibility of prioritising consideration of a death on religious grounds, a judgement welcomed by the Stamford Hill-based Jewish Community Council.
Hassell lost a previous court battle against the Jewish community in 2015-16, costing the taxpayer £250,000 in legal fees, a cost then met by four councils – Camden, Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets – the areas where St Pancras-based Hassell has jurisdiction. It is unclear if they are liable for the new costs.
Board of Deputies’ president Marie van der Zyl said: “At a time of tight budgets across local government, residents deserve a senior coroner they can rely on not to needlessly waste taxpayer’s money and to treat all residents fairly.”
The Board of Deputies and other Jewish groups have increasingly called for Hassell to be sacked, but the power to do so rests with the Lord Chancellor, not with Chief Coroner Mark Lucraft QC, who initially told Hassell her ‘cab-rank rule’ policy of releasing bodies was “excellent,” only to subsequently change his mind.