News & Commentary


Asserson leads judicial review to defend religious minorities’ rights

Asserson is playing a leading role in defending the rights of religious minorities in the UK. Amid fresh controversy around the release of bodies for burial, Trevor Asserson has branded the refusal to prioritise a death requiring speedy burial for religious reasons as “unlawful” and “a blanket and disproportionate refusal… to respect the religious beliefs of those within your jurisdiction”.

Acting on behalf of a Jewish Burial Society based within the inner London area for which Mary Hassell is responsible as Senior Coroner, Asserson has now won the right to proceed to a judicial review of Ms Hassell’s “cab-rank rule” with the case scheduled for 27 and 28 March. The Firm is looking to article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees the right to practice one’s religion or beliefs subject only to legal limitations to protect public safety and order, and the rights and freedoms of others. A letter has also been sent to the Lord Chancellor who has the power to dismiss Ms Hassell, and a complaint raised with the Judicial Conduct Office.

In granting the judicial review, the High Court judge indicated that he saw this issue as one which needed to be resolved urgently given the sensitivities for both the Muslim and Jewish communities within the district, and the implications for framework for the coroners’ system across England and Wales. Concerns have also been raised by amongst others, the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Mayor of London, local Members of Parliament and both Jewish and Muslim community leaders.  In his submission to the judicial review , the Chief Coroner of England and Wales, Judge Mark Lucraft, has described Hassell’s conduct as “over-rigid”, “not capable of rational justification” and “not lawful”.

According to both Jewish and Islamic law, the body of someone who has died should be buried as swiftly as possible. This is not the case in other religions, where relatives often prefer to wait. The tensions in this case have arisen as a result of a new protocol issued by the coroner stating that no death would be prioritised by her office on religious grounds and revoking a practice of allowing bodies awaiting release to be kept secure within a Jewish funeral home rather than in the public mortuary, to allow religious laws surrounding the dead to be complied with.

In 2015 Ms Hassell lost a judicial review of decisions around an invasive autopsy which Asserson led on behalf of a religious Jewish family. The judge described Ms Hassell’s decision as “flawed.”

Asher Gratt from Stamford Hill’s Adath Yisroel Burial Society said, “it beggars belief that we should be going through these sort of issues in a democratic society.”

Marie Van Der Zyl, vice-president of the representative body, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said “as Jews, we are not asking for priority. We are putting a position forward that anybody who requires a swift burial be given the same treatment. 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. 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.”

Mohamed Omer, a spokesperson for the Gardens of Peace Islamic cemetery, said, “the Muslim Community has also been subjected to delays by the same coroner’s office. We support the position taken by the Jewish community.”

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London who is also a Muslim, said, “if there’s no good reason to delay releasing a body…a coroner should respect the wishes of families and communities.”

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The issue has attracted considerable press attention:
The Times newspaper coverage
The Guardian newspaper coverage

The Guardian newspaper follow-on coverage
Law Gazette coverage
Law Gazette follow on coverage
Jerusalem Post coverage
Hackney Gazette coverage
Docklands and East London Advertiser coverage
Jewish Chronicle frontpage news
Jewish Chronicle leader commentary
Jewish Chronicle follow on coverage
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Jewish News coverage
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Ham&High coverage of the case
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Camden New Journal correspondence
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Additional community coverage
Hamodia coverage