Five days ago, the High Court ruled that the controversial burial policy of Mary Hassell, the senior coroner for Inner North London was “unlawful, irrational” and “discriminatory”. Her ‘cab rank rule’ of working through deaths on a ‘first come, first served’ basis caused enormous distress within Jewish and Muslim communities where bodies should be buried as soon as possible and within a twenty-four-hour period. Her decision making and disregard for religious rights of Muslims and Jews meant that she was on a collision course with both communities since her tenure covered boroughs with significant populations of both communities.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, and Gillingham and Rainham MP, Rehman Chishti, all rallied to the defence of both communities and stated that the religious rights of both Muslims and Jews should be taken into consideration, given that families were grieving and such insensitivities would further add to the stresses that they felt at a time of bereavement and extreme emotions.
The key issue here though, is why did Ms Hassell’s obstinence reach a point where a national campaign had to be mobilised? It took collective action by Muslims and Jews to raise the issue at a national level and a High Court ruling to move her into a position where the needs of local Jews and Muslims could be met. Her actions left many in both communities baffled, deflated and anxious.
On the other hand, this incident also shows how Muslim and Jewish communities came together quickly and in a timely manner to push back against an unlawful decision. It is testament as to what can be achieved when both communities work together and especially on issues of social justice. Ms Hassell’s action, inadvertently brought both communities together and for that, we can thank her. On her poor decision making, we can only thank those Muslims and Jews who ensured that she was held to account for it and in the interests of public accountability.