Coroner's 'cab rank' burials policy ruled unlawful over ignoring religion

A coroner's decision to adopt a "cab rank" queuing system for burials has been ruled unlawful by the High Court.

Jewish and Muslim groups brought a legal challenge against a policy established in October last year by Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for Inner North London.

The policy imposed a "blanket rule" that no death would be prioritised based on the religion of the deceased person or their family by either the coroner or her officers.

But two senior judges ruled the policy is unlawful and in breach of the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act.

(Sadiq Khan/Twitter)
(Sadiq Khan/Twitter)

Lord Justice Singh, sitting with Mrs Justice Whipple, said: "The fundamental difficulty with the defendant's policy is that it does not strike a fair balance between the rights concerned at all.

"Rather, as a matter of rigid policy, it requires the coroner and her officers to leave out of account altogether the requirements of Jewish and Muslim people in relation to early consideration of and early release of bodies of their loved ones."

Lawyers argued at a hearing last month that the policy ignored the "deeply held beliefs" of certain religious communities which require their dead to be buried as soon as possible.

Sam Grodzinski QC told the court there was evidence from Jewish and Muslim leaders that the policy has caused "widespread distress" among faith communities.

(National Secular Society/Twitter)
(National Secular Society/Twitter)

The barrister, representing the Adath Yisroel Burial Society, told the court his case was not that religious groups must come first, but that religious belief must be "conscientiously taken into account" by a coroner.

The court heard Ms Hassell's jurisdiction covers the boroughs of Camden, Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets, which between them have "sizeable" Jewish and Muslim minority populations.

Ruling that the policy must be quashed, Lord Justice Singh said: "We hope that, with appropriate advice from others, including the chief coroner and perhaps after consultation with relevant bodies in the community, the defendant can draft a new policy which meets the needs of all concerned, including protection of the legal rights of all members of the community.

"With appropriate good will on all sides and what Mr Hough at the hearing called 'applied common sense', we are hopeful that a satisfactory solution can be found in this sensitive area."

Following the court's ruling, Board of Deputies vice president Marie van der Zyl said: "We welcome this decision, which will help law-abiding Jewish citizens to mourn their loved ones according to their traditions."

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