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Court date set for coroner Mary Hassell’s clash with religious groups over prioritising burials

PUBLISHED: 15:48 08 February 2018 | UPDATED: 16:56 08 February 2018

A general view of the High Court on the Strand, London. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Archive

A general view of the High Court on the Strand, London. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA Archive

PA Archive/PA Images

A High Court judge today said the judicial review into senior coroner Mary Hassell’s refusal to prioritise religious people’s burials should be dealt with as soon as possible.

Lord Justice Singh also revealed the hearing would take place on March 27 and 28.

The hearing would have been set to have taken place this year, but the judge has ordered it to be brought forward.

It is expected to last a day and a half.

The row broke out in October between the inner north London coroner, whose remit covers Islington, Camden, Hackney and Tower Hamlets, and Stamford Hill’s Adath Yisroel Burial Society (AYBS).

It began when Ms Hassell cancelled a 2015 agreement to allow some Jewish people who die at home to be taken straight to the Mount Carmel funeral home so religious rituals can be observed. She claimed the burial society had violated the agreement and harassed her staff – something the society denies.

Instead, Ms Hassell is now operating a “cab-rank” system, where deaths are dealt with on a first come, first served basis. The Jewish and Muslim faiths attach special importance to the length of time between death and burial and representatives say Ms Hassell’s decision has left families unable to properly grieve.

She has until March 2 to give any evidence to the court justifying her decision.

The judge also said the claim should be heard by a divisional court. This means it would be presided over by at least two judges, including at least one Lord Justice.

Asher Gratt, a representative of AYBS, said: “We are grateful to the court for recognising the pressing need for this judicial review application to be heard as soon as practicable and for taking appropriate steps. Every day that Coroner Hassell maintains her decision she increases the anguish and suffering caused to members of the Jewish and Muslim communities.”

Earlier today, the London Assembly backed a motion from Andrew Dismore, assembly member for Barnet and Camden, condemning Ms Hassell for not responding to the requirements of Jewish and Muslim bereaved families.

In the motion, he accused her of having a “hidden agenda” and said she may be using the debate to get more resources and better premises.

“Whatever the reason, her approach is utterly unacceptable,” he said.

Ms Hassell has not responded to requests for comment.

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