The High Court has ruled that St Pancras Coroner Mary Hassell’s failure to prioritize religious burials is unlawful.
Her jurisdiction covers north London which is home to large communities of orthodox Jews and Muslims.
Lord Justice Singh said the policy set by Ms Hassell was discriminatory and must be quashed.
A judgement handed down today (Friday), said that the senior coroner’s “cab rank” rule – which states that no death will be prioritised because of the religion of the deceased or their family – was “irrational” and “discriminatory”.
The judges found that it was “very clear from the various materials submitted by the defendant that she was acutely aware of the impact her policy might have on certain minority religious communities within her area.”
The 56-page judgment by Lord Justice Singh, sitting with Mrs Justice Whipple, described the coroner’s policy as inflexible, misguides and “incapable of rational justification”.
“It is very clear from the various materials submitted by the defendant that she was acutely aware of the impact her policy might have on certain minority religious communities within her area,” the judgment said.
“What on its face looks like a general policy which applies to everyone equally may in fact have an unequal impact on a minority. In other words, to treat everyone in the same way is not necessarily to treat them equally. Uniformity is not the same thing as equality.”
The coroner had been criticized over delays by Jewish and Muslim families, who both require burial on the same day that a person dies.
Ms Hassell had argued that she was treating everyone equally by working on a first-come, first-served basis.
The claimants – the Adath Yisrael Burial Society (AYBS) – said they were not seeking automatic priority. Nor were they seeking to gain different treatment for any one particular group. They accepted that many groups might have a good reason to require a speedy burial, and thus need different treatment to others who do not need a speedy burial.
Rabbi Asher Gratt of the Stamford Hill’s Adath Yisroel Burial Society said: “This legal victory will bring immense relief for grieving families to bury their loved ones with respect and dignity, preventing further unnecessary anguish at the darkest moment of their lives.
“Having twice been found guilty of acting unlawfully, it’s high time for Hassell to move on and make way for a compassionate coronial service.”
The High Court judgement can be viewed here.
(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)