Up to 42 times as many non-invasive post-mortem examinations were carried out in areas with large Muslim populations last year than were ordered in the inner north London area overseen by coroner Mary Hassell, Jewish News can reveal.
Official figures show there were only nine non-invasive post-mortems conducted in Hassell’s area in 2017, which includes Hackney and Stamford Hill, despite a huge row and legal battle over how she handles cases involving religious families.
Jewish leaders have called for the greater use of non-invasive techniques such as CT or MRI scans, which can sometimes prevent the need to open and examine the body internally, and are ordered at the coroner’s discretion, with the deceased’s family agreeing to meet the costs.
The number of non-invasive post-mortems conducted in Hassell’s patch matched the number from 2016, but by contrast, there were 378 non-invasive post-mortems conducted in the Black Country in the West Midlands, up from 179 in 2016.
Similarly there were 373 non-invasive post-mortems in South Yorkshire, up from 140 in 2016, while there were another 267 in West Yorkshire, which includes Bradford, and 100 in Leicester.
In 2015, Hassell was taken to court for a second time by a Jewish family who wanted a family member to have a scan instead of a surgical post-mortem.
They won an injunction and the right to a judicial review in the High Court, where judges later ruled later that year that religious families can ask for scans or blood tests if their religion demands that the corpse remain intact.
A spokesman for the Adass Yisroel Burial Society said at the time that judges had “stepped in to prevent breaches of human rights, allowing the applicants to follow their religious beliefs… On both occasions the autopsies demanded by Ms Hassell proved completely unnecessary as non-invasive scans conclusively established the cause of death”.
Two months ago, the burial society said relations were Hassell were now much-improved, after she lost another court case brought by the society, in which judges deemed her “cab-rank rule” policy of releasing bodies unlawful.
Board of Deputies Vice President Amanda Bowman commented: “Coroners should offer non-invasive autopsies, and ensure bereaved families know they are available. According to the Chief Coroner’s Model Guidelines, coroners should offer an annual report to the local authorities they serve, and the Board of Deputies would expect details of how non-invasive autopsies are offered and delivered to be part of that report.”