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National Secular Society head gives backing to senior coroner Mary Hassell

PUBLISHED: 17:00 22 February 2018

St Pancras Coroner's Court Photo by: Stephen Evans

St Pancras Coroner's Court Photo by: Stephen Evans

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The chief executive of a secular pressure group has backed under-fire inner north London senior coroner Mary Hassell, saying “religion shouldn’t be a trump card.”

Stephen Evans, Chief Executive Officer of the National Secular Society Stephen Evans, Chief Executive Officer of the National Secular Society

In an email to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) on January 29, Stephen Evans urged the JCIO to “robustly uphold the principle of one law for all.”

The JCIO supports the Lord Chancellor, and the Lord Chief Justice in their joint responsibility for judicial discipline.

Ms Hassell has been criticised by Jewish and Muslim communities for not prioritising religious burials.

A judicial review was recently granted into how Ms Hassell deals with deaths in the inner north London area, which covers Islington, Camden, Hackney and Tower Hamlets.

Mr Evans also said he didn’t understand why any preferential treatment should be given to religious groups.

“It is not clear to me why any group of people have the right to demand to be prioritised over others. When one group demands priority, they are demanding that other groups be given less favourable treatment,” he said.

However Asher Gratt, a spokesman for the Adath Yisroel Burial Society said the group’s concerns went beyond religion.

“The National Secular Society is right, a religious belief should not be a ‘trump card’, but coroners should be concerned with relatives needs.

“Jews and Muslims require burial for their loved ones to take place immediately after death. Others may also have a need to do so. Causing them to wait adds significantly to their grief and distress.

“Tolerance for those of different faiths is a fundamental component of British values and is demonstrated by most coroners across the country with flexibility and compassion.

“The National Secular Society rightly expects tolerance for secularists. They should likewise extend tolerance to non-secularists,” he said.

In response to Mr Evans’ email, a senior JCIO caseworker acknowledged they had received complaints about the senior coroner.

However they are rejecting all complaints, as their remit is to look at misconduct allegations, rather than how a coroner has handled their cases.

Ms Hassell was previously reprimanded by the JCIO in June 2016 for disclosing correspondence between herself and Camden Council to the press.

Speaking to the Ham&High, Mr Evans gave the senior coroner his support. “Ms Hassell is guilty of nothing but upholding the principle of equal treatment.

“If a preference for an expedited coroners service can be satisfied without disadvantaging anybody else, or creating an unreasonable burden on the state, then that’s fine, but religion isn’t trump card that gives you the automatic right to preferential treatment.”

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