The London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden has called for the Lord Chancellor to sack a controversial coroner for refusing to fast track the autopsies of Jews on religious grounds.
Over a week ago, Adath Yisrael Burial Society (AYBS) of London issued an official letter of complaint against senior coroner Mary Hassell. In the letter, AYBS announced that unless Hassell changed her policy, the society would seek a judicial review.
Mary Hassell refuses to acknowledge Jewish religious requirements, among them the need for a levayah to take place on the same day as the passing. Her unwillingness to release bodies for a swift burial “causes significant distress to bereaved families.”
This letter came after AYBS called in Ms Hassell on her statement: “No death will be prioritized in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family.”
Last Friday Andrew Dismore, Labour Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden, added his voice to the calls for her resignation.
Mr Dismore wrote in the Ham&High, “I was appalled to read about the problems Ms Mary Hassell, the Senior Coroner for Inner North London, has caused for bereaved Jewish and Muslim families.
“I recall these problems began several years ago after her move from Wales, where she probably did not have experience of the needs of minority communities.
“One would have thought that before applying for the job, she might have reflected on the needs of one of the country’s biggest Jewish communities and our large and growing Muslim population, including the need for prompt burial, watching over the deceased, and avoiding invasive autopsies.
“Since her appointment, Ms Hassell has faced one court case after another, with legal costs in six figures met by taxpayers, brought by bereaved families to whom she should have given space to grieve not force to the courtroom to obtain respect for their cultural expectations.
“Our corner of London is amongst the most diverse in the country.
“Ms Hassell’s insensitive behaviour – probably unique in our local public services – flies in the face of harmonious community relations and cannot be tolerated any longer.
“It is long overdue that she should go. The Lord Chancellor should sack her, if he cares about the reputation of our legal system.”
This is not the first time Hassell’s decisions regarding Jewish burials have been subject to a judicial review. In 2015 she lost a review brought by the family of an Orthodox Jewish woman who fought an order by the senior coroner for an autopsy.
A year later she was formally reprimanded by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office for having publicized a letter in which she claimed she was being bullied by the Jewish community.