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.

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