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Coroner policy to ignore religious need ruled “discriminatory and incapable of rational justification” by High Court

Coroner policy to ignore religious need ruled “discriminatory and incapable of rational justification” by High Court

Categories: Latest News

Friday April 27 2018

The High Court has ruled that the “cab rank” policy introduced by a Coroner, Ms Mary Hassell, which did not take into account religious needs of communities was “unlawful, irrational and discriminatory”.

The ruling was handed down today, 27th of April 2018, in reference to the following policy enacted by Ms Hassell: “No death will be prioritised in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family, either by the coroner’s officers or coroners”.

Ms Hassell is the Senior Coroner for Inner North London and the policy was adopted by her on the 30th of October 2017.

The policy meant that Ms Hassell refused to prioritise the burial from Muslim and Jewish groups, even though their faith requires the burial to happen as soon as possible, if not on the day of the death itself.

Her jurisdiction covered areas of Hackney and Tower Hamlets which have a high concentration of Jews and Muslims, respectively. The significance of Ms Hassell’s policy to the two faith communities led to the Muslim Council of Britain and the Chief Rabbi, Mr Ephraim Mirvis, to urge her to reconsider her policy.

Ms Hassell sought to argue that “queue jumping places those who are pushed back further in the queue at a material disadvantage”.

She also attempted to justify her position by using the Chief Coroner’s, then Sir Peter Thornton, guidance which stated: “The law does not allow the Coroner to give priority to any one person over another”.

She did admit that “some families accept a delay to time of funeral” adding that “what causes most distress for all families is a delay in decision making and notification of that decision”.

She further admitted that in fact the policy was flawed as, by law, some cases had to be prioritised such as deaths subject to homicide investigation.

However, the Chief Coroner giving evidence in the case said that Ms Hassell’s policy was “unlawful”, “over-rigid” and “not capable of rational justification”.

The court ruled that the defendant’s policy was in breach of Article 9 of the Human Rights Act 1998, freedom to manifest religious belief, and Article 19, the right to not be discriminated, of the Equality Act 2010.

Mayor of London, Mr Sadiq Khan, who has previously criticised the policy, said: “I welcome this decision by the High Court…It is right and proper the Coroner respects the religious sensitivities of Londoners…Crucial that a plan is now drawn up as soon as possible on how this will be implemented in the Inner North London area”. Other notable critics of the policy include Prime Minister Theresa May and Mr Jeremy Corbyn.

The judgement by Lord Justice Singh, sitting with Mrs Justice Whipple, read: “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”.

It added: “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”.

Within the ruling it was stated:

  • A Coroner cannot lawfully exclude religious reasons for seeking expedition of decisions by that Coroner, including the Coroner’s decision whether to release a body for burial.


  • A Coroner is entitled to prioritise cases, for religious or other reasons, even where the consequence of prioritising one or some cases may be that other cases will have to wait longer for a decision. It is not necessary that all cases are treated in the same way or in strictly chronological sequence.

The Judge added: “We hope that, with appropriate advice from others, including the Chief Coroner and perhaps after consultation with relevant bodies in the community, the defendant can draft a new policy which meets the needs of all concerned, including protection of the legal rights of all members of the community”.



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