England: Coroner’s ‘cab rank’ burial policy ruled unlawful and discriminatory

The High Court in London has ruled that a coroner’s “cab rank” policy of dealing with bodies on a first-come, first-served basis was unlawful, irrational and discriminatory.

The protocol issued last October by Mary Hassell, senior coroner for inner north London, has now been struck down and quashed.

Jewish, Muslim and other religious groups said the policy discriminated against them as their religions mandate a speedy burial after death.

In today’s judgment, Lord Justice Singh, sitting with Mrs Justice Whipple, said there should be “no rule of automatic priority for those seeking expedition on religious grounds”, but that coroners have to strike a “fair balance” between the rights of the individual (in this case an individual’s religious needs) and the interests of the community.

The “fundamental flaw in the present policy adopted by the Defendant is that it fails to strike any balance at all, let alone a fair balance”.

The successful legal challenge was brought by law firm Asserson on behalf of the Adath Yisrael Burial Society (AYBS).

Trevor Asserson, founder of the firm, said: “The court found against Hassell on every count, except for finding that she had considered the impact of her Protocol on Jews and Muslims.

“This was to damn with faint praise, for the court found ‘she did not recognise that impact as discriminatory as a matter of law’.

“In other words, she knew she was causing anguish to people, but was too ignorant of the law to understand that her conduct was not only lacking in any compassion, but was also discriminatory and unlawful.”

He added: “This victory by AYBS is a victory for the cause of diversity throughout British society.

“Everyone interested in pluralism and intent on defeating discrimination in all its forms must rejoice at the Court’s firm and clear ruling.”

Rabbi Asher Gratt, speaking on behalf of the AYBS, said: “Having twice been found guilty of acting unlawfully it’s high time for Hassell to move on and make way for a compassionate coronial service.”