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Chief Rabbi 'deeply troubled' by coroner's failure to respect Jewish burial requirements

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis writes to Lord Chancellor to express concern over 'cab-rank rule' in dealing with Jewish deaths

    Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
    Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis (Photo: PA)

    The Chief Rabbi has joined the growing number of voices speaking out against the coroner, Mary Hassell, describing himself as “extremely troubled” regarding her burial policy.

    In a letter sent to the Lord Chancellor, David Gauke, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis spoke of how “concern has grown in recent years about the failure of Ms Hassell to give due regard to the deeply held religious beliefs of Jewish and indeed Muslim families in the area”.

    The Chief Rabbi emphasised that “where the fastest possible burial is denied to a Jewish family, it can cause a great deal of pain at a time when they are already grieving. In the case of Ms Hassell, she has made clear that she will not expedite the burial of a Jewish or Muslim person, even in cases where it is possible to do so.

    “As far as I am aware, there are no other coroners, anywhere else in the country, who have taken such a stance.”

    Rabbi Mirvis’s letter comes after the Board of Deputies announced that it has also written to the Lord Chancellor, who, together with the Lord Chief Justice, is the only authority able to dismiss a senior coroner.

    Last October Ms Hassell told the Adath Yisroel Burial Society (AYBS) in Stamford Hill that she was operating a "cab rank rule" which meant that “no death will be prioritised in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family”.

    She reiterated her policy in another letter to the AYBS in January. A meeting last week between Ms Hassell and a representative of the Board and AYBS failed to reach an agreement, with Marie Van der Zyl, vice-president of the Board, describing the discussion as “deeply disappointing”.

    Mary Hassell
    Mary Hassell
    The Jewish community has made it clear that it is not asking for preferential treatment, but rather an expedited system which would be available to all. As Rabbi Mirvis stressed in his letter: “There is absolutely no expectation, as has been suggested by Ms Hassell, that the interests of Jewish families should be placed ahead of others.

    “On the contrary, we would never wish to see a system in which one group is advantaged at the expense of another. Yet it should go without saying that where cultural and religious needs can be met without disadvantaging anybody else, they certainly should be.”  

    LETTER FROM THE CHIEF RABBI

    Dear Lord Chancellor,

    I am saddened to have to raise with you a matter which has caused Jewish communities in North London, a great deal of distress.

    One of the essential British values of which I am so proud is the mutual respect for people of all faiths and none. I have been heartened to hear first-hand, on a number of occasions, just how committed the government is to upholding this principle and the reassurance it has offered when made aware of instances when public officials have fallen short on this fundamental tenet of British life.

    As you may already be aware, concern had grown over recent years about the failure of Ms Mary Hassell, Senior Coroner for Inner North London, to give due regard to the deeply held religious beliefs of Jewish and indeed Muslim families in the area.

    I have received copies of correspondence between Ms Hassell and a Jewish communal organisation, the Adath Yisrael Burial Society, and I have been extremely troubled by Ms Hassell’s stated position.Jewish tradition places great emphasis on the importance of burial of the deceased without delay. Where the fastest possible burial is denied to a Jewish family, it can cause a great deal of pain at a time when they are already grieving.

    In the case of Ms Hassell, she has made clear that she will not expedite the burial of a Jewish or Muslim person, even in cases where it is possible to do so.

    As far as I am aware there are no other coroners, anywhere else in the country, who have taken such a stance.There is absolutely no expectation, as has been suggested by Ms Hassell, that the interests of Jewish families should be placed ahead of others. On the contrary we would never wish to see a system in which one group is advantaged at the expense of another. Yet, it should go without saying, that where cultural and religious needs can be met without disadvantaging anybody else, they certainly should be.I would be most grateful if you could look into this matter at your earliest convenience and hope that you will be able to offer reassurance to the Jewish community.

    Yours sincerely,

    Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

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