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Mary Hassell: Rabbi welcomes senior coroner’s new faiths-friendly protocol to replace unpopular ‘cab-rank’ policy

PUBLISHED: 17:33 17 September 2018 | UPDATED: 17:33 17 September 2018

Senior coroner Mary Hassell outside Camden Town Hall. Picture: Polly Hancock

Senior coroner Mary Hassell outside Camden Town Hall. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Senior coroner Mary Hassell has today unveiled the new policy that will dictate how her office decides which deaths to deal with first.

Rabbi Asher Gratt of the Adath Yisroel Burial Society at the meeting. Picture: Polly HancockRabbi Asher Gratt of the Adath Yisroel Burial Society at the meeting. Picture: Polly Hancock

Her protocol has been welcomed by the rabbi who led the legal action that forced her to produce it.

Ms Hassell, whose remit covers Camden, Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets, has also confirmed £80,000 allocated by Camden Council for the provision of an out-of-hours service will be introduced. She said the announcement of the funding at July’s public meeting about the protocol had been “a wonderful surprise”.

Rabbi Asher Gratt has been at the forefront of the legal battle that saw Ms Hassell forced to abandon her controversial “cab rank” method of prioritising deaths – that is, refusing to allow certain deaths to jump the queue on religious grounds – after a judicial review.

Rabbi Asher Gratt, of Stamford Hill’s Adath Yisroel Burial Society, told us this afternoon: “This is a huge improvement on where were six months ago. We’ve been in discussions over the past few months and the coroner has been very co-operative.”

Senior coroner Mary Hassell speaks to community members after a public meeting at Camden Town Hall 05.07.18.Senior coroner Mary Hassell speaks to community members after a public meeting at Camden Town Hall 05.07.18.

The new protocol formalises the triage system adopted by Ms Hassell recently, while also explicitly directing the coroner’s office to take into account “particular characteristics” – one of which is whether the deceased is “of a religion or culture where observers commonly seek early funeral”.

Dr Gratt added: “For the last six months we have seen a real willingness to co-operate and in our area we are now hopeful of receiving a compassionate coroner’s service.

“The coroner has abandoned the rigidity seen previously, and in fact has bent over backwards to show she is listening to our needs over the past few months.”

Ms Hassell was advised by the chief coroner in England and Wales to draw up a formal policy “to show a departure from the previous system”.

The new protocol sees due consideration given to “the needs and wishes of all concerned” when Ms Hassell’s office is prioritising the order in which it deals with cases.

In an explanatory statement released with the new protocol, Ms Hassell’s office said: “The senior coroner listened carefully to the views expressed throughout the public consultation process she conducted as part of her preparation for the protocol. She took into account the comments made at the public meeting she held at Camden Town Hall on July 5, 2018, and those provided in writing by various members of the community, plus the thoughts kindly shared by the chief coroner.”

The statement adds Ms Hassell is grateful for all assistance received during the consultation process but says she and she alone is responsible for any errors in the new guidance.

It also affirms that the senior coroner “intends it to be a practical and flexible tool”.

The legal action that led to the new protocol has seen Camden Council bear the brunt of the legal bill – it was forced to pay £68,000 in interim costs at the end of June.

The total cost of Ms Hassell’s and the burial society’s representation remains unclear.

Both the Jewish and Muslim faiths believe the dead should be buried as soon as possible, as a result of which Ms Hassell agreed three years ago to put them first.

But she sparked outrage when she withdrew that arrangement in October, saying its terms had been violated – something Adath Yisroel denied.

She instead brought in a first-come, first served policy of dealing with deaths – the “cab-rank” system. In response, Adath Yisroel brought the judicial review against her on grounds of discrimination, and won.

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