Lawyers representing an Orthodox burial society have launched a judicial review in the High Court against a senior London coroner who has angered the Jewish community over her approach to burials and autopsies.
The latest move adds to pressure on the Lord Chancellor to take action against Mary Hassell, senior coroner for Inner London, whose district includes Hackney, Camden, Tottenham and Islington.
Trevor Asserson, the lawyer acting for Adath Yisroel Burial Society, said this week that Hassell was “either ignorant of the law or ignoring it,” after the Board of Deputies and Chief Rabbi this week backed calls for her to go.
Jewish groups have asked for speedy burial and non-invasive autopsies where possible, but Hassell has been clear that “no death will be prioritised in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family,” describing the policy as a “cab‑rank” rule.
A number of meetings have been held with Jewish representatives, most recently with the Board of Deputies, but no mutually-amicable solution has been found, leading Asserson to challenge Hassell’s policy.
The London lawyer said the main objection is that “it breaches the human rights of certain faiths to practice their religion by burying their dead promptly”.
He said: “Where the Coroner can release a person’s body promptly to their family, when there is a religious need to do so, and the release can be effected without disadvantaging other families then the Coroner should do so.”
On average, families in the UK wait just over two weeks between death and burial or cremation, whereas for observant Jewish and Muslim families prioritise prompt burial, ideally the same day.
The judicial review application will be presented in the High Court by Sam Grodzinski QC, a leading human rights barrister, along with Khawar Qureshi QC, a leading commercial and international law silk and Benjamin Tankel, a specialist human rights barrister.
Asserson said: “Diversity means making allowance for the particular needs of different groups where those needs can be easily accommodated. Ms Hassell does not seem to understand that and seems determined either to remain ignorant of the law or to ignore it.”
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