Chief Coroner publishes new guidance following Mary Hassell JR
18 May 2018
The Chief Coroner has issued guidance following the judgment of the Divisional Court in R (Adath Yisroel Burial Society) v Senior Coroner for Inner North London  EWHC 969 (Admin) (“the AYBS Case”). The new Guidance No.28 can be found here.
The successful judicial review of the Coroner for Inner North London’s controversial ‘cab rank’ policy which led to this new guidance is discussed by this author on the Blog here.
Guidance No.22 is intended to provide “practical guidance” to coroners in situations where requests for urgent consideration of a death are made for religious (or other) reasons (paragraph 2).
For those interested how this unusual litigation came to pass, the guidance provides some more detail. It is noted that many coroners do not have funding for out of hours services, when, presumably, requests for expedition might frequently be made. It also gives details of the many other pressures on the coroner’s office during working hours (paragraphs 6-7).
It notes that the Inner North London Coroner’s policy of ruling out prioritisation of deaths on religious grounds was held to be unlawful notwithstanding resource issues.
Going forward, the guidance stresses, at paragraphs 12-13, that a coroner must make a decision considering all the circumstances. This a decision for the coroner alone under the law – it cannot be delegated to an officer or member of administrative staff.
Like the Divisional Court, the Chief Coroner has declined to provide more detailed or prescriptive guidance about particular circumstances that may arise in individual cases (see paragraph 156-7 of the judgment).
However, it emphasises that a coroner must be open to representations that a particular case should be expedited, whether on religious or other grounds, though automatic priority to deaths from a particular religious community is not required (paragraphs 14-15).
It is interesting to note that at paragraph 16 the guidance states that there is no obligation for individual coroners to adopt their own formal written policies – the coroner for Inner North London has of course indicated that it is her intention to do so, following publication of the Chief Coroner’s guidance.
Should she do so, the guidance offers general advice. Namely that such policies should be sufficiently flexible to allow due consideration to be given to expediting decisions where there is a good reason, whether religious or otherwise.
And there is perhaps some more pointed advice earlier on in the guidance at paragraph 4, where it is observed that
Many coroners engage with local community groups to improve mutual understanding.
Shaheen Rahman QC is a barrister at One Crown Office Row.