(JTA) — A London-area Jewish burial society has taken the local coroner to the country’s High Court over her burial policy.
The Adath Yisrael Burial Society took Mary Hassell, the senior coroner at the St. Pancras Coroner’s Office in central London, to the court for a judicial review over her policy that of not prioritizing deaths because of the religion of the deceased.
According to both Jewish and Islamic law, bodies of the deceased must be buried as soon as possible after death, ideally on the same day.
Hassell’s jurisdiction covers the largest concentration of haredi Orthodox Jews in Europe and the United Kingdom’s biggest Muslim community.
Sam Grodzinski, an attorney for the burial society brought statements from Jewish and Muslim religious leaders about the importance of speedy burial, the London-based Jewish Chronicle reported.
The policy has caused “widespread distress” among faith communities, the attorney told the court.
He said his case was not that religious groups must come first, but that religious belief must be “conscientiously taken into account” by the coroner.
“If the coroner’s officer knows that the family has a genuine religious need to hold the funeral of their loved one either later that day or the next day, this religious need cannot lawfully be excluded from the defendant’s consideration,” he also said, calling the current policy a “cab rank queue.”
Hassell, who was unrepresented in court because she wanted to “maintain a neutral position,” said in a written statement ahead of the hearing: “We respond to particular circumstances and wishes and we accommodate every family when we are able – provided that doesn’t materially disadvantage other families, we assist where we can.”
The Jewish Chronicle reported December that one woman made 210 phone calls to the St. Pancras Coroner’s Office before being assured that her father would be buried four days after his death. Another family was told it would have to wait two weeks for an autopsy to be performed before a funeral could be held. Following a meeting with Hassell in January, Jewish leaders called for her removal.