North London Coroner Initiates ‘Faith-Friendly’ Protocol

LONDON -

Mary Hassell, senior coroner for North London, released a new protocol on Monday that sets out a revised “faith-friendly” policy for prioritizing cases where there is a need for her to release a body for burial.

Ms. Hassell was at the center of several unpleasant incidents over the last few years, including some that went to court. Her methods, including the controversial “cab-rank” rule, were the subject of a judicial review, following which the rule was abandoned.

In July, Ms. Hassell held a public meeting, well-attended by members of the Jewish and Muslim communities, which have both been disproportionately affected by her intransigence and insistence on outdated procedures. Following the meeting, Ms. Hassell seems to have had a change of heart. She has listened to the requests of the communities and co-operated with them to release bodies as quickly as possible to a much greater extent, using a triage system to decide priorities.

The new protocol formalizes this system and explicitly directs the coroner’s office to take “particular characteristics” into consideration. One of the characteristics listed is if the deceased is “of a religion or culture where observers commonly seek early funeral.” The protocol also states that due consideration should be given to “the needs and wishes of all concerned” when deciding the order in which to deal with cases.

Ms. Hassell’s office released a statement to accompany the protocol in which they said: “The senior coroner listened carefully to the views expressed throughout the public consultation process she conducted as part of her preparation for the protocol. She took into account the comments made at the public meeting she held at Camden Town Hall on July 5, 2018, and those provided in writing by various members of the community, plus the thoughts kindly shared by the chief coroner.”

The statement continues that Ms. Hassell “intends [the protocol] to be a practical and flexible tool.”

Ms. Hassell also confirmed that Camden Council has provided £80,000 to cover the provision of out-of-hours coroner’s services, which will be introduced in due course. The grant was announced at the public meeting in July, which Ms. Hassell described at the time as “a wonderful surprise.”