Chief Coroner, His Honour Judge Mark Lucraft QC, has claimed he misinterpreted north London coroner Mary Hassell’s protocol to not prioritise funerals and burials based on faith after it was found that he originally described it as “excellent”.
The protocol, dubbed the ‘Cab Rank Rule’, has led to a number of delays in the burials of Jewish and Muslim clients, who require bodies to be buried as soon as possible. Hassell was accused of causing ‘anguish and trauma’ to families and the Adath Yisroel Burial Society (AYBS) wrote a formal complaint calling for her removal.
At the judicial review looking into her protocol, Hassell served a pleading on 8 March 2018 (“the Addendum”) – revealing that she had sought advice from the Chief Coroner before communicating the practice.
She said: “If the Chief Coroner had told me that my approach was unlawful, then of course I would have reconsidered this immediately.”
On Monday 12 March 2018, The Chief Coroner served a Response (“the Response”) to the Addendum, explaining that he had misinterpreted the unlawful protocol when he described it as excellent.
The Chief Coroner said: “It is unlawful for a coroner to determine never to give a task greater urgency because of an express request, based on religious belief, for a body to be released for burial quickly.” He also said Hassell’s protocol “is not rationally justifiable.”
On Friday 9 March 2018, Asserson, solicitors for the claimant, AYBS, invited Hassell to reconsider her position. She has not responded.
Trevor Asserson, founder of law firm, Asserson, said: “Hassell’s position becomes more untenable by the minute. She sticks stubbornly to an irrational position and hopes to cover up her ignorance of the law by washing a bit of dirty laundry in public, showing yet further lack of judgement.
“Hassell calls us bullies for writing her letters. This is a baseless and disgraceful allegation. If she were to comply with her legal obligations we would never have had to write her letters in the first place.”
Asher Gratt, speaking on behalf of the AYBS, added: “The tone of the correspondence emerging from Ms Hassell, as well as her conduct, make us fear that she has no real interest in accommodating the deeply held religious beliefs of the Jewish and Muslim communities. We are becoming increasingly concerned that bereaved families will continue to suffer – adding anguish and distress because of Ms Hassell’s rigid and inflexible policies.”