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Coroner Hassell to draft a new protocol

Following the High Court’s ruling that her “cab rank” protocol was “unlawful”, “discriminatory” and “irrational”, and should be quashed, senior coroner for Inner North London Mary Hassell has announced that she “intends to draft a new protocol for the order in which deaths reported to her office should be considered”.

Hassell’s former protocol meant that people who required burials as soon as possible were delayed due to her ‘first come, first served’ rule and refusing to prioritise autopsies based on religious practices.

The High Court recently made a judgement against Hassell, in the matter of R (Adath Yisroel Burial Society) v HM Senior Coroner, in which the Court stated that “it would be perilous… to attempt to anticipate the precise circumstances of individual cases which may or may not arise in the future.”

The Court stated that: “It is in principle acceptable for the Coroner to implement a policy to address the circumstances when priority will or may be given, so long as that policy is flexible and enables all relevant considerations to be taken into account.”

The Chief Coroner of England and Wales, HHJ Mark Lucraft QC, also did not encourage coroners to issue policies for prioritisation.

Rather, in his Guidance No. 28, the Chief Coroner made clear that “there is no obligation for coroners to adopt formal written policies for dealing with requests for expedition or for dealing with deaths from faith communities.” Instead, he emphasised a need for flexibility saying coroners should “seek to strike a fair balance” between the interests of those from certain religious backgrounds and other families who may be affected by a delay.

Before drafting her new protocol, Hassell has organised a public consultation meeting for 5 July 2018 and invited members of the public to attend and to “share their views on the matter” either in written form before the meeting, or at the meeting.

More than 1,200 people have provided written comments to Hassell, to express concerns about her new protocol. The main concern is that the usefulness of the meeting has been jeopardised by the fact that she has not circulated a draft protocol for comment.

Petitioners have also written asking her to follow the Court’s guidance on the subject.

Rabbi Asher Gratt, who spearheaded the judicial review against Ms Hassell, said: “Other coroners seem to manage very well without any written protocols, which begs the question, what does Ms. Hassell want to achieve with the new protocol?”

Trevor Asserson, the lawyer who acted for the claimants in the judicial review, added: “The High Court’s warning that it would be “perilous” to attempt to anticipate all of the circumstances which could arise in the future is a clear warning against written policies. I have written to Ms Hassell to express my concern that her new protocol may do more harm than good, but she has failed to alleviate my concern.”

The consultation meeting will take place at The Council Chamber, Camden Town Hall, Judd Street (off Euston Road), London W1CH 9JE at 6pm on Thursday, 5 July 2018.

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