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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1 comment

  • These problems and delays were never experienced before this particular coroner arrived nor are these currently being experienced elsewhere in the UK. Unfortunately, the goodwill, understanding, and flexibility available elsewhere is somewhat lacking here and it is not simply down to short-staffing (if at all) and similar excuses were made in Cardiff, her previous position, where delays provoked large protests from the Muslim community. On her arrival here, she immediately introduced strict office hours, excessive bureaucracy and centralised decision-making under her personal authority – making delays inevitable. Before the election, the last government offered to establish a London-wide out-of-hours Coroner Service to ease the burden and delays; although this was proposed with her in mind, I believe that she was not very co-operative. Besides these delays, by withdrawing the 2015 agreement, she is in effect additionally forbidding relatives from observing age-old customs and beliefs in “guarding bodies until burial”; this has nothing to do with staffing levels and to grieving relatives might almost seem like pure malice, which is no way to obtain their support or backing. The Adath Yisroel Burial Society has been cooperating here in North London with relatives and Coroners since the early 1900s! It is staffed by volunteers selflessly available at all hours, as have Jewish Communities across Europe for centuries, to ensure their dead are buried according to religious custom and tradition as soon as possible. This is stipulated in the Bible (Deuteronomy 21:23 & Joshua 10:27) and recorded in the Codes of Jewish law so for thousands of years it has been an imperative for Jews and later Muslims to bury quickly, often without waiting for all relatives. However other religions and customs routinely postpone burials to allow adequate arrangements and notify all relatives so these delays are less of a trauma. Of course, anyone of any or no religion who also wants to speed up their process for whatever reason should equally have their preferences respected. Would Mr Ramzy Alwakeel consider everyone late for their plane trying to skip an airport queue as “disregarding” passengers queuing for later flights? The Coroner’s row was not of our making when we obviously prefer to sort these challenges amicably rather than resort to the law though when problems with this coroner came to court or the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office, justice wasn’t always found to be on her side. Unfortunately, council taxpayers end up paying her legal bills since Coroners are funded by Councils though they have no say whether she elects to fight her corner in court rather than compromise. Perhaps it is these extra costs which have lead Councils to underfund or understaff this Coroners’ Office?

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    Asher Gratt

    Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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