A Jewish burial society has written to four local authorities and the Metropolitan Police requesting the removal of the senior coroner for Inner North London, due to “incredible delays and frustrations” during her tenure.
The Adath Yisroel Burial Society has contacted the chief executives of Camden, Islington, Tower Hamlets and Hackney councils, detailing the difficulties they have had with Ms Mary Hassell, the senior coroner at St Pancras Coroner’s Court, which has jurisdiction over these boroughs.
In the letter, the AYBS stated that “unlike previous coroners…Ms Hassell has steadily and incrementally imposed rules and inflexible procedures primarily designed to benefit her officials while effectively reducing their service to the public”.
Last week, the JC reported how Ms Hassell, who has held her role since 2013, had written to Jewish community representatives in North London, telling them that “no death will be prioritised in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family”.
Under both Jewish and Islamic law, the dead should be buried as soon as possible — a requirement not shared by most other faiths.
Ms Hassell also announced that she was withdrawing a protocol, which enabled religious Jews to observe the practice of shemirah, “guarding” the body of the deceased prior to burial. She has directed that all bodies, of whatever faith, be kept at a public mortuary, where it is not possible to guard them.
The letter accused Ms Hassell of “show[ing] less regard for ethnic or religious sensitivities than previous or other coroners.”
It added: “Many of her imposed rules, bureaucracy, inflexibility and unnecessary delays offend traditional and/or religious practices and periodically force ethnic groups into legal challenges to protect many hitherto assumed civil and religious rights.”
The burial society cited “incredible delays and frustrations, which were only resolved by outside interventions.”
The AYBS letter said: “Other coroner offices, knowing of some religions’ obligations for prompt burials, demonstrate flexibility in prioritising these where possible, but Miss Hassell’s office seems to make a habit of delaying them, notwithstanding that she knows this causes immense anguish and trauma for relatives.”
In 2015 Ms Hassell lost a judicial review brought by the family of a deceased Charedi woman after she had insisted on an invasive autopsy. She lost the case, and was ordered to pay 90 per cent of the plaintiff’s legal costs.
In 2016, she was formally reprimanded by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) for publicising a letter in which she alleged that she was being bullied by the Jewish community.
An AYBS representative said the society would make an official complaint to the JCIO “if she [Ms Hassell] does not retract.”
Ms Hassell has not commented despite numerous requests by the JC.