Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has written to the chief coroner for England and Wales over what he says are ‘serious concerns’ about the ‘cab rank’ policy on releasing bodies adopted by north London coroner Mary Hassell.
In a letter to Mark Lucraft QC, Corbyn said it is ‘unacceptable’ that people suffering from grief are experiencing ‘unnecessary delays and barriers to laying loved ones to rest’. The letter calls on Hassell to reconsider her approach.
Last week, the Gazette reported that the High Court had granted a judicial review into the policy of Hassell, senior coroner for Inner North London, following a dispute with Jewish funeral organiser Adath Yisroel Burial Society (AYBS). The AYBS sought a review of Hassell’s policy after an incident involving the family of an Orthodox Jewish man who died in October last year.
AYBS criticsed ‘unnecessary bureaucratic delays’ in releasing the body for burial. Jewish and Islamic law requires bodies to be buried on the day of death or as soon as possible afterwards.
Hassell said at the time that no death would be prioritised over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family. The hearing is due to take place next month.
Corbyn’s letter, sent last Friday and seen by the Gazette, adds: ‘Coroner Hassell’s approach goes against our Jewish and Muslim residents’ faith and is preventing them from grieving for their lost loved ones.’
The letter, co-signed by Emily Thornberry, MP for Islington South & Finsbury, and Islington councillor Richard Watts, notes that other coroner services, including Salford and Bolton’s Coroner Services, use magnetic resonance imaging scans in autopsies, removing the need for ‘invasive post-mortem techniques that go against a number of religious practices’.
‘We regret that Coroner Hassell’s conduct … to date has caused significant upset and undue trauma for people who are already suffering so much and simply want to grieve,’ it states.
Corbyn said: ‘I have been approached by the Jewish and Muslim communities in Islington and I’m very concerned about the stress families are going through in not being able to complete burials in line with their faiths. I fully support their efforts to ensure public services respect their religious beliefs and traditions - and the coroner service should be no exception.’