A coroner’s office in London has come under fire after multiple families have complained about delayed Jewish burials.
The London-based Jewish Chronicle reported Thursday that one woman made 210 phone calls to the St. Pancras coroner’s office in central London before being assured that her father would be buried four days after his death. 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.
Mary Hassell, the senior coroner at the St. Pancras office, told the family of Barry Davis last week that it would be two weeks before an autopsy could be performed and a funeral held. Several other similar cases have been reported.
Hassell also asserted in a letter to Jewish community leaders that “no death will be prioritized in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family, either by coroner’s officers or coroners.”
She added in the letter that she would no longer allow Jewish bodies to be held at a local Jewish funeral home to enable shemirah, the practice of “guarding” the body by fellow Jews until burial, instead of at the mortuary.
Trevor Asserson, an attorney representing Stamford Hill’s Adath Yisroel Burial Society, told the Jewish Chronicle that Hassell has “shown a total disregard for, or ignorance of, the law in deciding never to give priority to ‘faith deaths.’ Her conduct demonstrates what I consider to be a gross disregard for the religious sensibilities, as well as the legal rights, of the Muslim and Jewish families whose deceased relatives come under her control.”
In 2015, Hassell lost a judicial review brought by the family of an Orthodox Jewish woman. Hassell’s office had insisted that the woman have an invasive autopsy, which is against Orthodox law. Last year Hassell was formally reprimanded by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office for publicizing a letter in which she alleged that she was being bullied by the Jewish community.