(JTA) — A London-area Jewish burial society, seeking speedy burials for the Jewish and Muslim dead, has taken the local coroner to the country’s High Court.
An attorney for Adath Yisrael Burial Society says Mary Hassell’s policy of not prioritizing the religious needs of Jews and Muslims is causing “widespread distress” among the faith communities. 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.
Hassell is the senior coroner at the St. Pancras Coroner’s Office in central London. Her jurisdiction covers the largest concentration of haredi Orthodox Jews in Europe and the United Kingdom’s biggest Muslim community.
The burial society is asking the court for a judicial review over her policies.
Sam Grodzinski, an attorney for the burial society, brought statements from Jewish and Muslim religious leaders about the importance of speedy burial, the London-based Jewish Chronicle reported. He said his clients do not insist that religious groups must come first, but that religious belief must be “conscientiously taken into account” by the coroner.
“If the coroner’s officer knows that the family has a genuine religious need to hold the funeral of their loved one either later that day or the next day, this religious need cannot lawfully be excluded from the defendant’s consideration,” Grodzinski said, comparing the current policy to the first-come, first served line at a taxi stand.
Hassell, who was unrepresented in court because she wanted to “maintain a neutral position,” said in a written statement ahead of the hearing, “We respond to particular circumstances and wishes and we accommodate every family when we are able — provided that doesn’t materially disadvantage other families, we assist where we can.”
The Jewish Chronicle reported in December that one woman made 210 phone calls to the St. Pancras Coroner’s Office before being assured that her father would be buried four days after his death. Another family was told it would have to wait two weeks for an autopsy to be performed before a funeral could be held.
Following a meeting with Hassell in January, Jewish leaders called for her removal.