Jewish and Islamic law demand that a body should be buried as soon after death as possible.
But if a death is referred to the Coroner (just under half of all registered deaths in England and Wales*) to determine how, when and where the person died, the process can result in distressing delay.
The High Court has now ruled that coroners should take account of such religious considerations when prioritising cases.
Coroners can fast-track cases on grounds of religion
In 2017 Senior Coroner Mary Hassell introduced a first-come-first-served policy to ensure that deaths within her North London area were treated equally:
“no death will be prioritised in any way over any other because of the religion of the deceased or family.”
The area has a sizeable minority Jewish and Muslim population, so prioritising cases on religious grounds might lead to painful delays for others. The Coroner claimed that her policy was flexible and did not prevent her office helping families wherever possible.
However, religious groups claimed that in operating a ‘cab-rank’ policy to prioritise cases the Coroner breached the human rights of Jewish and Muslim families and was causing widespread distress amongst faith communities.
The High Court has ruled that ‘uniformity is not the same as equality‘. The cab-rank policy was found to be discriminatory because it has an unequal impact on a religious group.
The Court made clear that a Coroner
- can set out rules to determine which cases will be expedited, even though this will delay other cases.
- those rules can include (and cannot exclude) religious reasons.
So now it is back to the Coroner’s office to formulate rules which will not have a discriminatory effect on Jewish and Muslim families.
* Coroners Statistics from 2016
More on Jewish laws relating to death and burial here