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Theresa May discusses controversial coroner Mary Hassell in House of Commons

Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chisti raised the issue during PMQs today

    Rehman Chishti
    Rehman Chishti (Screengrab: Parliament TV)

    Theresa May has supported calls for coroners to respect individual religious beliefs a week after a judicial review of a controversial North London coroner’s practices was granted.

    Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for inner North London, angered the Jewish and Muslim communities when she announced last year that she would not prioritise cases based on religious practice.

    Under the religious law of both faiths, the dead are required to be buried as quickly as possible.

    Responding to Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chisti during Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons today, Mrs May said: “It is important that we take into account specific requirements of someone’s faith, especially when they’ve lost a loved one and they are grieving.”

    She added that David Gauke, the Justice Secretary, would be “happy” to meet Mr Chisti to discuss the issue further.

    Mrs May confirmed the Ministry of Justice would discuss the case with the Chief Coroner, despite the fact that coroners represent an entirely separate judicial office.

    Last week a High Court judge, Mr Justice Edward James Holman, announced his decision to grant the Adath Yisroel Burial Society (AYBS) the right to a judicial review into the burial policy of Ms Hassell.

    Trevor Asserson, solicitor for ABYS, said the decision had been made with “unusual speed”. Such decisions are typically made after a number of weeks, or even a month.

    Mr Justice Holman said the case was an “important” one, which "clearly raises issues of considerable importance to both the Jewish and Muslim communities".

    It followed calls from the Board of Deputies for her dismissal, while Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, have also lent their support to the Jewish and Muslim communities.

    Ms Hassell’s jurisdiction covers North London boroughs, Camden and Islington, as well as Hackney, the home to Europe’s largest strictly Orthodox community, and Tower Hamlets, which is home to the UK’s biggest Muslim community.

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