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Chief coroner issues new religious guidance following High Court decision against Mary Hassell

It specifies that taking into account religious beliefs should include considering whether a particular case should be “treated as a matter of urgency...for religious...reasons”.

    Mary Hassell is the senior coroner at St Pancras coroner's court, which covers Camden, Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets

    The Chief Coroner of England and Wales has released new guidance for deaths, in which it is made clear that “proper respect should be given to representations based on religious belief”.

    Guidance No 28, issued today by Judge Mark Lucraft QC, is titled: “Report of death to the Coroner - decision making and expedited decisions”.

    It specifies that taking into account religious beliefs should include considering whether a particular case should be “treated as a matter of urgency...for religious...reasons”.

    The guidance has been released following the High Court decision last month in the judicial review case of senior coroner Mary Hassell. 

    Ms Hassell, whose jurisdiction covers the boroughs of Camden, Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets, had exercised what she referred to as a “cab rank rule” policy, meaning “no death will be prioritised in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family”. Religious Jews and Muslims are required to bury the dead as soon as possible.

    Ms Hassell informed Stamford Hill’s Adath Yisroel Burial Society of her burial policy last October, and refused to retract it, despite appeals for her to do so. The case went to the High Court, which ruled Ms Hassell’s policy to be “unlawful, irrational" and "discriminatory”.

    Reacting to the new guidance, Rabbi Asher Gratt, who spearheaded the judicial review proceedings for the Adath Yisroel Burial Society, expressed gratitude to the Chief Coroner. “The guidance makes clear that a coroner must give due regard to religious wishes about death and burial.

    “Other coroners already treat faith communities with dignity. We hope Ms Hassell will now follow suit.”

    Trevor Asserson, the senior partner of Asserson Law Offices, solicitors for the claimants, said: “The Chief Coroner’s guidance is extremely helpful. It makes clear that a request for prioritisation on religious grounds will always constitute a ‘well-founded request for expedition’.

    “In exercising their judicial functions, coroners must consider religious wishes and strike a fair balance between the rights of religious families and the interests of other families.”

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