The Senior Coroner for St Pancras, Mary Hassell, held a public meeting at Camden Town Hall last night. It was intended to address the grave concerns that local residents have about her mistreatment of Jewish and Muslim residents.
Hassell has now been successfully sued twice due to her unlawful treatment of Jews and Muslims. In 2015, the High Court ruled her policy of conducting invasive autopsies even when families requested non-invasive alternatives was unlawful discrimination.
More recently, she has been successfully sued for adopting an infamous ‘cab rank rule’ for release of bodies, whereby she releases them in order of their arrival at her office. This means that Jewish and Muslim residents, whose faiths demand swift burial, would have to wait for their loved ones to be buried: a completely unacceptable state of affairs.
Hassell’s intransigent approach has caused a huge amount of distress to local residents. Her area of practice is one of the most diverse in the country – covering Camden, Islington, Hackney, and Tower Hamlets. Furthermore, because the Royal Free in my ward is the nearest hospital to Golders Green and Hampstead Garden Suburb, many Jewish residents in Barnet pass away in her jurisdiction, and have been humiliated by her cab rank rule.
Last night, I made four points:
- Hassell should not adopt a written ‘hierarchy’ of bodies to discharge. She sits in a judicial capacity and is required to consider each case on its merits, not impose a one-size-fits-all approach like her cab rank rule. She would be the only senior coroner in the country to have such a code, and it would inevitably be adopted by other areas: enshrining her approach elsewhere.
- She should immediately contact the neighbouring coroners in North London (covering, for example, Barnet and Enfield) and East London (covering, for example, Newham and Redbridge). They deal with large Jewish and Muslim populations far better than Hassell has.
- She should institute a review at some future date of how Jewish and Muslim residents are being treated by whatever system she adopts. This will allow it to be an iterative process where she can learn.
- Even despite doing all the above, it was not clear to me that Hassell understood the harm she was causing. The High Court found that she has acted unreasonably, and yet she continues to do so. As noted above, she sits in a judicial capacity, and that requires her to use her discretion. If she can’t, she can’t be a senior coroner.
Judging by the Jewish and Muslim community representatives that spoke to me afterwards, it’s fair to say these views were reflected across the room. It’s absolutely imperative that our community gets a senior coroner that reflects those views – and if Hassell can’t, she can’t do the job.