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Mary Hassell urged to withdraw 'unlawful' burial policy

In a letter sent on Sunday, lawyers for the AYBS called on her to reach 'a mutually agreeable resolution… before trial'

    Mary Hassell's St Pancras Coroner's Court covers Camden, Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets

    The Adath Yisroel Burial Society (AYBS) has urged controversial coroner Mary Hassell to withdraw her policy of ignoring the Jewish and Muslim religious requirement for quick burials after the Chief Coroner said it was “unlawful”.

    In a letter sent on Sunday, lawyers for the AYBS called on her to reach “a mutually agreeable resolution… before trial… [and] accept that your interpretation of the Guidance was wrong and that your stated defence of the Protocol is untenable.”

    The letter went on: “We invite you to withdraw the Protocol and to seek to reach agreement with our client of appropriate terms for the speedy resolution of this matter.”

    AYBS has applied for a judicial review into the policy which is due to be heard on March 27-28.

    On Friday, in his submission to the court ahead of the case, Judge Mark Lucraft, Chief Coroner of England and Wales, described Ms Hassell’s protocol as “not lawful” and “not capable of rational justification”.

    Last October, Ms Hassell, the senior coroner for the London boroughs of Camden, Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets, told Jewish communal representatives that her burial policy was to operate a “cab rank rule”, meaning that “no death will be prioritised in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family”. Despite requests from the AYBS for her to withdraw this protocol, she refused to do so, after which the burial society launched the Judicial Review proceedings.

    In her own submission to the court, , Ms Hassell presented three letters “from members of the local community” supporting her position. Details of who the letters are from have been redacted.

    The AYBS said “thousands of people” had signed an open letter protesting against Ms Hassell’s policy which it had posted online in January. Prominent politicians, including Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, and Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party, have also spoken out against the policy.

    The letter sent yesterday by the AYBS noted the anonymity of the letters supporting Ms Hassell, and pointed out that “the author of the third letter expressly states that he is ‘willing and ready to stand up, presenting a local aware insiders [sic] voice…”. We invite you to provide an unredacted copy at least of that letter’.”

    Ms Hassell also stated in her submission that she “maintain[s] a wholly neutral stance in this application for judicial review”.

    However, the AYBS legal team wrote: “By maintaining your unlawful decision, you are partisan and not neutral, and if your defence to our claim is unsuccessful then you will in principle become liable to pay our costs in the ordinary way.

    “Your continued insistence that you will adhere to the Protocol, pending the decision of the Court, leaves our client little option but to take this matter to a full hearing, and to incur the costs of doing so. We do not accept that the position you are taking is one of neutrality. It is not.”

    Rabbi Asher Gratt of the AYBS described Ms Hassell’s defence of the cab-rank rule while claiming neutrality, as “coming across like slapping someone in the face and asking who did it.

    “If the High Court finds her policy unlawful, as the Chief Coroner plainly does, she must reconsider her policy – perhaps she ought do the honourable thing and resign."

    Lawyers for the AYBS have given Ms Hassell until 4pm on Wednesday to respond.

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