Judge makes landmark ruling on autopsies for Jews and Muslims after Royal Free Hospital death

Coroner Mary Hassell.

Coroner Mary Hassell. - Credit: Archant

A judge has ruled that coroners have no right to demand invasive autopsies on bodies if the deceased’s family object on religious grounds, in a landmark case involving the death of an Orthodox Jewish woman in Hampstead.

The family of Serlotta Rotsztein, who died last September at the Royal Free Hospital aged 86, brought a judicial review of coroner Mary Hassell’s decision to order an invasive autopsy after receiving conflicting medical opinion on the nature of her death.

Muslims and Jews regard invasive autopsies as the desecration of a body in religious law.

Mrs Rotsztein’s family took out an emergency injunction halting the autopsy and a scan was subsequently carried out.

They then challenged Ms Hasell’s decision in the High Court.

Last week, Mr Justice Mitting ruled that Ms Hassell’s decision to order an autopsy, despite the family’s objections, was unlawful.

Solicitor Trevor Asserson, acting for the Rotszteins, said: “This is an important ruling which establishes the human rights of Muslims and Jews and protects them from capricious decisions of coroners.”