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High Court declares Senior Coroner’s ‘cab rank’ policy for handling burials unlawful

The Administrative Court has handed down an important judgment in the case of R (Adath Yisroel Burial Society) v Senior Coroner for Inner North London [2018] EWHC 969 (Admin), ruling that it is unlawful for coroners to ignore the requirements of faith communities when considering post-mortem management of bodies subject to their control.

Facts

The defendant, the Senior Coroner for Inner North London, had been asked by members of the Jewish and Islamic faiths to prioritise considering their deceased family members so that burial could take place as soon after a death as possible, in accordance with religious teachings of their respective faiths. The coroner had refused such requests, and had in place a policy (the ‘cab-rank’ policy) which considered bodies under her jurisdiction on a ‘first-come, first-served’ basis, and did not take into account any individual characteristics of the deceased, including their faith and that of their relatives. A Jewish faith group challenged the lawfulness of this cab-rank policy.

The Administrative Court decision

It was held that the coroner’s refusal to consider prioritising burials on the basis of the religion of a deceased and their families was unlawful. This was on the basis that the policy did not take into account rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights (which are guaranteed under the Human Rights Act 1998), and had the effect of discriminating against those who held certain religious beliefs.  The court also held that such a policy fettered the discretion of the coroner when exercising her statutory decision-making powers.

What to take away

Going forward coroners will be required to recognise that family members, who for religious reasons wish for their loved one to be buried as soon as possible, have a right for such wishes to be considered, and where possible and proportionate, for these to be actioned. Accordingly, it will be important for healthcare professionals to action requests made for a quick referral to a coroner’s office, on the basis that all state organisations, so far as practicable, will be required to assist coroners to fulfil the obligations required following this decision.

Capsticks is a market leader in the healthcare and inquest field and is ranked in the top tier for clinical negligence work by the Chambers Guide to the Legal profession and the Legal 500.

If you would like to discuss the implications of this case further, or any other related cases or issues please contact: Georgia Ford or Nicholas Lane.

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