Orthodox demand an out-of-hours coroner service to end burial delays

By Simon Rocker, March 6, 2014

Jews and Muslims in North London have launched a joint protest at delays in funerals caused by the lack of an available coroner at weekends.

A petition signed by 4,000 Jews and 1,500 Muslims has been handed into the Chief Coroner’s Office and Camden Council.

It follows the recent death of a visiting Israeli rabbi, who collapsed in Stamford Hill following a heart attack but whose body was released for burial only on the following Tuesday.

One of the petition’s Jewish organisers described the incident as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

The protest has followed the withdrawal of the out-of-hours service in the Inner North London district — which covers the large Jewish population in Stamford Hill and the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead — following the arrival of a new coroner last summer.

A spokesman for the Orthodox Jewish community in Stamford Hill said: “We want to bury our dead as soon as possible, so we need to be able to get hold of someone, whether the coroner or a coroner’s officer.

“In other districts, like Barnet or Manchester, we can pick up the phone to a coroner out of hours”.

Councillor Abdul Hai, Camden Council cabinet member for community safety, said he shared “the views of the community that the current system whereby bodies can only be released during working hours does not fully address the needs of both Jewish and Muslim families.

“I have met with the chief coroner and the coroner for Inner North London to outline the considerable strength of community feeling around this issue.”

He added that the council was limited in what action it could take “due to the autonomy of the office of coroner.”

The Chief Coroner, a spokesman said, was aware that “certain faith groups, particularly Jewish and Muslim, seek early burial and coroners are sensitive to their needs.”

Most coroner procedures, he observed, were performed during “usual working hours. Out-of-hours working, particularly at weekends, requires additional resources such as the services of pathologists, staff at mortuaries and administrative staff.

“These are matters for those who provide resources, such as the local authority and the police, not individual coroners. Nevertheless, the Chief Coroner is working to see what can be done with these current limitations in mind.”

According to the Orthodox spokesman, there have been three occasions in recent months when the Jewish community in Inner North London would have sought a coroner out of hours.

“We are not talking the middle of the night — we are talking early evening or Sunday morning,” he said.

Last updated: 6:45pm, March 6 2014