Coroner faces anger at public meeting about her 'absurd' burial policy

Mary Hassell's 'cab rank' policy was deemed 'unlawful, irrational and discriminatory'


A senior coroner has faced anger from the members of the public over her refusal to prioritise any death, which outraged Jews and Muslims and was struck down by the courts as “unlawful, irrational and discriminatory”.

Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for inner North London, operated a "cab rank" policy that refused to prioritise any deaths, even if their religion stipulated they be buried as quickly as possible. 

She was ordered to pay at least £68,000 to the Adath Yisrael Burial Society (AYBS) and Ita Cymerman after the High Court ruled her policy was “incapable of rational justification”.

Camden Council has to cover the legal costs she was ordered to pay, which, the JC understands, will likely be significantly higher than the £68,000 she was ordered to pay immediately.

On Thursday, community and faith leaders were among roughly 60 people who attended the meeting at Camden Town Hall, called by Ms Hassell.

She was attacked for “causing a lot of heartache and costing a lot of public money”, as members of the public were invited to submit suggestions for a new burial policy.

One man said: “What we haven’t heard today is anything about how you’re going to go about meeting the needs of this diverse community. What the High Court said was that a policy of treating everyone equally was manifestly irrational and unlawful.

“Many of your colleagues have come up with a rational and lawful policy, but you have not. It’s not rocket science – it is simply that you should act in a rational way, and not adopt a policy to be so perverse as to be absurd.”

Ms Hassell said that she decided to implement the “cab rank” rule after prioritising a Jewish death, represented by the AYBS, over the death of a Muslim child, which meant the child’s father “had to wait in hospital all day”.

Attendees reacted angrily, with one accusing her of “seeking to set off one group against another”.

He said: “It’s the well-represented Jews, represented by the burial society, and the hapless Muslim father, waiting at the hospital. And that is extremely divisive.

“We do not want to be divided. We are a united community. So please understand the needs of that community.”

Hackney councillor Harvey Odze, whose Springfield ward includes the large Charedi community, said that such problems do not arise in Barnet or Redbridge, which also have large Jewish and Muslim populations.

Others spoke in defence of Ms Hassell, saying that other circumstances – including occasions when family members travel to the UK, and deaths related to murder investigations – should take precedence over religious considerations.

Ms Hassell's first draft of the new burial protocol will be made available to the Chief Coroner this month.

After his amendments are made, a second round of public consultation will take place, and a third draft will be sent to the Chief Coroner. A fourth and final draft will then be published.

After the meeting, a member of the Charedi community, who wished to remain anonymous, told the JC he was “heartened by this first step”, but added that it “will not be solved overnight”.

He added: “She’s learning, and I think she will get the message. Whether she will be a good coroner for our area, we will see.

“The fact that she called this meeting was good. Part of the reason there was so much heat at tonight’s meeting was that it was the first time she has done it. But it was the right thing to do.” 

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive