Hope for speedier religious burials as coroners plan to extend hours
A coroner’s court covering north London could soon introduce an out-of-hours service after Muslim and Jewish communities complained they are being prevented from providing their loved ones with proper religious burials.
St Pancras Coroner’s Court is among a number in London considering bringing in weekend and evening services to allow for improved access and speedy burials.
The move comes after the court, which covers Camden, Islington, Hackney and Tower Hamlets, withdrew its out-of-hours service in 2013 when Mary Hassell was brought in as senior coroner.
Any weekend and evening services are informal arrangements dependent on the individual coroner.
The cut to the service by Ms Hassell was met with anger from Muslim and Jewish communities, who said it prevented a burial of loved ones within 24 hours, as stipulated in religious texts.
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The complaints were brought to the fore last year after the death of a leading rabbi from Jerusalem in Stamford Hill.
Rabbi Nathan Tibor Donath’s loved ones suffered a three-day hold-up in the signing of his death certificate.
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It sparked a campaign to have weekend services reinstated. More than 6,000 Jews and Muslims signed the petition, addressed to Camden Council and the chief coroner’s office.
Seeing their campaign come to a head this year, in January justice minister Simon Hughes met with the chief coroner, the police and senior figures from London councils to discuss how out-of-hours services could be provided “without additional cost”.
This week Camden Council confirmed it would, by the end of the month, be submitting its own plan to bring in the service.
Cllr Abdul Hai, Camden Council cabinet member for customers, communities and culture, has been lobbying Mr Hughes and others on the issue for more than three years.
He told the Ham&High: “I’m really pleased we are putting in place a pan-London plan for providing an out-of-hours service.
“The current service creates a huge delay to burials, causing unnecessary grief for families.
“Coroners’ courts need to be brought into the 21st century. It’s a public service that needs to embody proper cultural understanding. It’s early stages, but I hope the service will be extended across the country, not just London.”
Cllr Hai is also working with others to introduce what he says will be the first London service to provide non-invasive post-mortems using CT scans.
It’s a call echoed by Mr Hughes, who wrote in a response to a parliamentary question last month: “It is important that coroners are flexible and accessible in the service they provide. The government will do everything it can to encourage all coroners to make an out-of-hours service available and also to direct a less-invasive post-mortem where this is suitable and desired by the family.
“We want to make sure that grieving families receive the highest level of service when they are most in need, which is why we are determined that inquests are conducted quickly and consistently right across the country.
“The chief coroner and I recently met senior figures from London local authorities and from the Metropolitan and City of London Police. We have secured their agreement to developing a pan-London out-of-hours coroner service which will share workloads and services and be in place as soon as possible after March 31.”