The Board of Deputies has called for Mary Hassell, the Senior Coroner for Inner North London, to be removed from her post.
The damning appeal follows a meeting with the coroner last Friday who displayed “little interest” in addressing the Jewish community’s concerns in her work.
Marie Van Der Zyl, Vice President of the Board of Deputies and Sidney Sinitsky of the Adath Yisroel Burial Society met Ms Hassell to see whether steps could be taken to re-instil the Jewish community with confidence in her work.
Ms Van Der Zyl said: “The early release of bodies for those families who want it – including Jewish families – is a fulfilment of the basic human rights of family life and religious practice.
“Not only is Ms Hassell failing to respect those rights, but she shows no inclination to do so. She has lost the confidence of the Jewish community and appears to have no interest in winning it back.”
The Board took the step of writing to the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, David Gauke, and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, to request her removal from her post on Tuesday.
Ms van der Zyl noted in the letter that the situation concerning the Inner North London Coroners Service, which over 30,000 Jews depend oncontinues to be “deeply troubling”.
Regarding her meeting with the Senior Coroner to discuss a way forward on policies that obstruct the early release of bodies for families that request it, she explained:
‘This is critical for the religious freedom of Jewish families, whose religious tradition dictates a funeral take place as soon as possible after death, and whose other crucial mourning rites cannot begin until after burial.
‘Ms Hassell’s insistence on what she terms a ‘cab rank’ rule on a strict first-come, first-served basis without any discretion, and unwillingness to provide a contact number for burial societies to use out-of-hours services, has created a situation were the Jewish community of Inner North London is being failed by their coroner’s service.’
The document included a list of incidences where Ms Hassells’ “obstructive policies and manner” have resulted in unnecessary delays and distress to the bereaved.
Ms van der Zyl added that the list was “not exhaustive” as the Board was seeking examples from the Muslim community.
She concluded, “We cannot see how the situation can be resolved while Ms Hassell is still in her post. We therefore request that you relieve her of her duties.”
The letter follows on from a number of days when Jewish representatives has been seething about the situation.
The senior coroner for Inner North London covering Hackney, Camden, Islington and Tottenham, has been the subject of concern from Orthodox leaders for years.
Hassell, from Wales, drew the anger of the religious Jewish community for saying she would not prioritise any religious group, leading to charges of “insensitivity”.
In an angry statement following the meeting, Ms van der Zyl said: “Not only is Ms Hassell failing to respect those rights, but she shows no inclination to do so, she has lost the confidence of the Jewish community, and appears to have no interest in winning it back.”
In a further twist, London Mayor Sadiq Khan entered the debate whilst at a City Hall ceremony for International Holocaust Remembrance Day earlier this week.
Asked for his views, he said: “When somebody dies, it’s extremely distressing.
For those who follow the Jewish and Islamic faith, it’s an important part of our beliefs and our culture to bury our loved ones as soon as possible.”
And the mayor “welcomed” the Board writing to the Lord Chancellor.
“I’m hoping he will make sure that coroners appreciate the sensitivity around these issues,” he said.
“If there’s no good reason to delay the release of the body or if there’s no reason to have an invasive post-mortem, I think coroners should respect the wishes of the family and the community.”