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Be flexible on religious burials, ‘dogmatic’ coroner is urged by Tower Hamlets mayor

PUBLISHED: 10:58 07 August 2018 | UPDATED: 11:13 07 August 2018

Mayor of Tower Hamlets in call to restore public confidence in the coroners' service. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mayor of Tower Hamlets in call to restore public confidence in the coroners' service. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

A call for flexibility to allow ‘fast track’ religious burials has been made by the Mayor of Tower Hamlets following a High Court ruling against a “dogmatic” queuing system.

Coroner Mary Hassell... slammed by critics as dogmatic over religious burials. Picture: Polly HancockCoroner Mary Hassell... slammed by critics as dogmatic over religious burials. Picture: Polly Hancock

John Biggs has responded to a public consultation on how to prioritise burials by calling for bereaved Jewish and Muslim families to be supported to restore public trust in the coroner service.

It follows the court case against controversial coroner Mary Hassell by the Adath Yisroel Jewish burial society which has stopped her ‘cab rank’ queuing system in its tracks.

Her approach was slammed by critics as “dogmatic” which didn’t account for sensitive issues of religious requirements for burials within 24 hours.

“This consultation is a first step towards restoring confidence in the coroners service,” Mayor Biggs said in a statement to the East London Advertiser.

“We want to make sure families are supported when they suffer bereavement and need a service that caters to everyone in our community.’’

The coroner has had to abandon the ‘cab rank’ policy of dealing with deaths on a “first come, first served” basis after top judges ruled that it was discrimination.

Ms Hassell had previously said “no death reported to my office will be prioritised over any other because of the religion of the deceased or the family”.

Deputy Mayor Sirajul Islam... Deputy Mayor Sirajul Islam... "flexibility when dealing with bereaved families".” Picture: Mike Brooke

This was labelled “dogmatic” by the Jewish burial society and was also described by Tower Hamlets Council as being “at odds” with east London’s diverse communities.

Deputy Mayor Sirajul Islam said: “We call for flexibility when dealing with cases and to work with us to develop an ‘out of hours’ service which we have long called for.”

The consultation following the legal action calls for Poplar Coroner’s Court to be kept open rather than merged with St Pancras Coroners, opening an ‘out of hours’ service for bereaved families and bringing in improvements such as MRI scanners for non-invasive scans in autopsies.

The coroners’ service is not answerable to the London boroughs which fund it. Yet the local authorities have had to pick up the court costs. Tower Hamlets helps pay for the Inner North London coroner district along with Hackney, Islington and Camden.

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