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High Court tells Camden Council to pay at least £68,000 over coroner Mary Hassell’s ‘cab-rank’ system

PUBLISHED: 15:52 25 June 2018 | UPDATED: 10:23 26 June 2018

The chief coroner has issued a 'guidance' telling coroners to 'respect' religious beliefs when dealing with deaths. It comes after the controversy of Mary Hassell, who operates from St Pancras and Poplar Coroner's Courts. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA

The chief coroner has issued a 'guidance' telling coroners to 'respect' religious beliefs when dealing with deaths. It comes after the controversy of Mary Hassell, who operates from St Pancras and Poplar Coroner's Courts. Picture: Anthony Devlin/PA

PA Archive/PA Images

The High Court has told Camden Council it must pay at least £68,000 in legal fees after senior coroner Mary Hassell lost a court battle over how she treats deaths in Hackney, Islington, Camden and Tower Hamlets.

Lord Justice Singh, and Mrs Justice Whipple, who presided over the original judicial review in March, said the borough will also have to pay further costs later this month, which will be decided by the court.

Those future costs are currently being calculated.

The legal action was brought by Stamford Hill’s Adath Yisroel Burial Society, which was one of the bodies dismayed at Ms Hassell’s refusal to prioritise burials on religious grounds.

Both the Jewish and Muslim faiths believe the dead should be buried as soon as possible, as a result of which Ms Hassell agreed three years ago to put them first. But she sparked outrage when she withdrew the arrangement in October, saying its terms had been violated – something Adath Yisroel denied.

She instead brought in a “first-come, first served” policy of dealing with deaths, disparagingly dubbed a “cab-rank” system. In response, Adath Yisroel brought the judicial review against her on grounds of discrimination – and won.

Camden, as the lead borough in the inner north London area, is set to shoulder the legal costs of losing the case.

Figures released in March showed £240,000 had previously been spent by the council fighting judicial reviews against Ms Hassell.

At the two-day hearing in late March, England and Wales’ chief coroner Mark Lucraft QC said Ms Hassell’s approach was “not lawful” and “over rigid.”

But he did say his opinion wasn’t a criticism of Ms Hassell, and that her new policy may have been a “genuine intention” to be fair to everyone in her area.

Her approach was criticised by a host of council leaders and MPs, including the leader of the Labour Party, Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn.

Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, welcomed the decision.

She said: “At a time of tight budgets across local government, residents deserve a senior coroner they can rely on not to needlessly waste taxpayers’ money, and to treat all residents fairly.”

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