Editor’s comment: I can’t see legal threat calming coroner’s row

PUBLISHED: 11:30 09 January 2018 | UPDATED: 16:41 10 January 2018

Mary Hassell has been senior coroner for north London since 2013

Mary Hassell has been senior coroner for north London since 2013


I am not religious, but religious groups are part of Hackney’s fabric. They are our friends, our neighbours, our community.

Which makes the row between the coroner’s office and a Jewish burial society in Stamford Hill all the more thorny.

Yet where a public service is involved – one we all pay into through tax and one we will all probably use (to make no presumptions about the possible collapse of civilisation, the discovery of immortality or, more plausibly, dying abroad) – I believe the argument bears a bit of unpicking.

We all, with or without faiths, pay taxes in exchange for a service that works for Hackney’s communities – including religious ones. The agreement struck in 2015 seems therefore to be fair – the Jewish community must have the right and the flexibility to observe its own customs and beliefs by taking a role in the guarding and burial of bodies.

But with that power should come some responsibility: not to rail against the coroner’s office for being short-staffed, but to have its back as a public service we all rely on.

If it is overworked, religious leaders should be leading the fight for it to get better funding, not demanding preferential treatment.

No one doubts the seriousness of delays in dealing with bereavement, but that is true for all the families on the coroner’s waiting list, irrespective of faith. Dr Gratt accuses Ms Hassell of a disregard for religious people’s views, but what about the burial society’s disregard for the other families who needed help that day?

I don’t believe rescinding the 2015 agreement is in anyone’s interest. But there are two sides, and I worry that threats to take the coroner to court will prove inflammatory rather than reconciliatory.

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