US/World News

Jewish leaders blast London coroner for delaying Jewish burials

(JTA) – Jewish leaders called for the removal of a London coroner over delayed Jewish burials, following a private meeting with her. The board of Deputies of British Jews met with Mary Hassell, the senior coroner at the St. Pancras coroner’s office in central London, after she told Jewish leaders in a letter that “no death will be prioritized in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family.” Hassell’s jurisdiction covers the largest concentration of haredi Orthodox Jews in Europe and the UK’s biggest Muslim community, according to the London-based daily The Guardian. 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.

During a meeting Jan. 19 with Hassell, The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Adath Yisrael Burial Society attempted to persuade the coroner to withdraw the new directive, as well as a second that prevents the bodies from having shemirah, in which bodies are attended round the clock by fellow Jews until their burials. The groups told local media that Hassell showed little interest in addressing the Jewish community’s concerns during the meeting.

“The early release of bodies for those families who want it – including Jewish families – is a fulfilment of the basic human rights of family life and religious practice,” said Marie Van Der Zyl, the board’s vice-president. “Not only is Ms. Hassell failing to respect those rights, but she shows no inclination to do so. She has lost the confidence of the Jewish community, and appears to have no interest in winning it back.” The board said it plans to turn to David Gauke, the lord chancellor and justice secretary, and Lord Burnett, the lord chief justice, to request Hassell’s removal from her position.

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