Judge agrees to judicial review of 'cab rank' rule for unexplained deaths
A high court judge has granted an application for a judicial review of a senior coroner’s “cab rank” policy in dealing with unexpected deaths, saying it raises issues of importance to Jewish and Muslim communities.
Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for north London, said last month .
Under Jewish and Islamic law, bodies must be buried on the day of death or as soon as possible afterwards. Both faiths also view invasive postmortems as desecration, preferring CT body scans and autopsies only as a last resort.
Hassell’s area of jurisdiction covers Hackney, which has the biggest concentration of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Europe, and Tower Hamlets, the UK’s biggest Muslim community.
Her refusal to expedite burials on religious grounds has led the . The Muslim Council of Britain, the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, the chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, and the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, have also called on the coroner to reconsider her policy.
Hassell instituted her policy following a dispute with the family of an Orthodox Jewish man who died in October and and the Adath Yisroel Burial Society (ABYS) over what they claimed were unnecessary bureaucratic delays in releasing his body for burial.
The coroner denied their claims and alleged that her staff had been bullied and intimidated by family members and the burial society. She said “no death will be prioritised in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family”.
Lawyers for the ABYS sought a judicial review. In granting the application, Mr Justice Holman said: “This claim clearly raises issues of considerable importance to the Jewish and Muslim communities.”
He added that any decision as a result of the judicial review must apply to the whole of England and Wales, not just the area of Hassell’s jurisdiction.
Asher Gratt of the ABYS described Hassell’s conduct as “unhelpful and rigid”. He added: “For four and a half years, she has now been out of touch in meeting the needs of this diverse community and we hope the judicial review will finally bring it to a close in allowing grieving families to bury their dead with dignity and compassion.”
The Judicial Conduct Investigations Office confirmed last month it was investigating a formal complaint against Hassell.
Hassell’s office said she was unable to comment. However, last month she wrote to lawyers for ABYS saying her protocol was not unlawful, adding: “I believe the cab rank rule is the fairest way.”
Corbyn said he was “very concerned about the stress families are going through in not being able to complete burials in line with their faiths”.
: “I fully support [the Jewish and Muslim communities’] efforts to ensure public services respect their religious beliefs and traditions – and the coroner service should be no exception.”
The London mayor also raised concerns. “If there’s no good reason to delay releasing a body, or if there’s no good reason to conduct an invasive postmortem, a coroner should respect the wishes of families and communities,” .