Written evidence from Hindu Forum of Britain
HINDU FORUM OF BRITAIN
The Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB) is the largest umbrella body with a broad‐based membership of over 320 Hindu organisations from different regions and cultural backgrounds in Britain. HFB is the first port of call for UK Government, the media and other faith groups seeking to understand the Hindu faith, our aspirations and the concerns of the British Hindu community which contributes generously to the UK economy. HFB's activities are broadly divided into four main areas: communicating with the UK Government at local and national level, public policy and community consultation, capacity building and project development, and developing good interfaith relations with other faith-based communities to build a cohesive and inclusive Britain.
HFB facilitates consultation and communication to support and influence public policy by providing broad and collective views of the Hindu community on a wide range of issues. HFB also identifies issues and requirements of the community nationally and regionally through its large network of member organisations and links with other Hindu bodies. Some of the consultation exercises conducted by HFB include responses to the Home Office policy on race equality and diversity, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, QCA and Religious Education Curriculum, Home Affairs Select Committee on Terrorism and Community Relations, Ministers of Religion from Abroad and others.
At the core of the Forum’s activities is a strong belief in the richness and diversity of the Hindu culture, its value system that encompasses respect for all beings and faiths and a cultural heritage that facilitates volunteering, community cohesion and coexistence.
REASONS FOR SUBMITTING EVIDENCE
HFBs reasons for submitting evidence are based on collective concerns and experience of our member organisations who have expressed worries about the Coroner Service in England and Wales particularly in relation to expediting decision-making and early release of body of the deceased. There is a glaring lack of urgency and understanding at the level of the Coroner’s office regarding the necessity for prompt release of the body so that Hindu rituals which must be performed after the cremation on the 11th day, 12th day and 13th day post death can take place in keeping with our faith and to the satisfaction of the grieving family.
At a roundtable meeting led by Lord Dolar Popat in March 2019, representatives from the Hindu Forum of Britain expressed concerns on the issue of delays in release of bodies of deceased persons of the Hindu faith. In communicating these concerns to the Chief Coroner, Lord Dolar Popat set in motion the process of raising the collective concerns of the Hindu community. The Chief Coroner in a letter cited a recent judgement against the Senior Coroner for Inner North London1 and clarified that, on the basis of this judgment, the national guidelines had been amended which should inform and advise the considerations of all coroners across the country.
In a letter addressed to coroners across the country dated 17th May 2019, The Chief Coroner Judge Mark Lucraft QC issued guidance, The Chief Coroner’s Guidance No 28 - Report of Death to the Coroner : Decision making and expedited decisions. This was released as a practical guide to assist coroners, where a bereaved family had made a request to the coroner for urgent consideration of the report of a death of a loved one and/or early release of the body.
These guidelines to expedite release of the body appear to be followed by the Coroner’s office for the deceased of the Jewish and the Muslim faith. However, the families of the deceased of the Hindu faith and Jain faith face long, agonising and often unnecessary delays in the release of the body by the Coroner’s Office because there is woefully inadequate understanding of Hindu religious rituals which need to be performed within a set time frame after death.
RESPONSE TO CALL FOR EVIDENCE - THE CORONER SERVICE
The extent of unevenness of Coroners Services including local failures and a case for a National Coroner Service.
Response to Question 1
Grieving Hindu families are not afforded the same level of understanding as other faith communities. The majority of the grieving families who voiced their concerns through member organisations, felt that they were pushed to the background as they were mild mannered and accepting of the rejection of their requests to expedite the release of the body. In their already traumatised state, that these families felt that they had to be assertive in order to be heard as much as others, signals a serious flaw in the service.
Concerns outlined that a culture of ‘on demand’ prompt service was limited to specific faith groups. A reason for the delay in releasing the body was often not given and even when the cause of death was clear there was unjustified delay. There was no willingness on the part of the Coroner’s offices to understand the ritual practices of the Hindu faith. It was disheartening to learn that often the phone calls were not answered and replies to emails were not forthcoming. On the odd occasion when a phone was answered, the experience of several bereaved families was that the official from the Coroner’s office dealing with the request to expedite release of the body was irate, unsympathetic and often rude to member of the grieving family. Changing goal posts in decision making to release the body was a common practice from one Coroner’s region to another.
Hindu Forum of Britain would like to be consulted when a National Coroner Service is formed so that we can adequately address the requirements of the Hindu community.
PARAGRAPH 2 and 3
The Coroners Service’s capacity to deal properly with multiple deaths in public disasters.
Response to Question 2
As a community organisation we feel strongly that the Coroner Service requires adequate modern technology to actually be prepared and Covid-19 has proved that disaster management needs to be properly in place. It is salient that the service has the capacity and resources to continue to deliver the service competently through a disaster situation leading to multiple deaths. It is of great importance that the service has in place a strategy by which they can work with relevant faith organisations in order to expedite the process.
Ways to strengthen the Coroners’ role in the prevention of avoidable future deaths
Response to Question 3
From our understanding of the Coroner’s role, we believe that it is not in the hands of the Coroner to be able to prevent avoidable future deaths? We would imagine that it would be within the qualifications and expertise of the GPs (and not Coroners), who would identify patterns in similar reasons for death across numbers, in order to alert and flag an escalating health issue that if addressed by the local authority and NHS, can prevent avoidable future deaths.
How the Coroners Service has dealt with Covid 19
Response to Question 4
Delays have been compounded by Covid 19, but whilst some faith groups still enjoy priority in release of bodies, Hindu families have to endure a prolonged delay. A member organisation reported that there was removal of barriers at the Coroners office in dealing with the release of the body but because of lack of staff, ultimately delays were experienced. Several deaths that were not Covid 19 related were treated as if they were, and these families were confronted with rules and restriction which were often not explained to the family in a sympathetic manner. In consultation with physicians within the community, HFB was given to understand that there is scope for the coroner to often have a telephonic conversation with the GP and if satisfied that the death is natural, it is possible to release the body through a faster process. Even as the Covid 19 related death rate increased in April 2020 and the Coroners service was overwhelmed, it was blatantly obvious that because bereaved Hindu families were understanding of Covid 19 pressures on Coroners service and because they were not over-bearing in their demands, their requests to process release of the body was pushed to the back of the queue.
Progress with training and guidance for coroners
Response to Question 5
An urgent need for special training for Coroners Office staff relating to Hindu rituals and practices and the reasoning for early release of body was repeatedly called for by member groups.
Hindu Forum of Britain would be willing to share expertise in this area to prepare a tailor-made guidance booklet and video which can be shared with the regional Coroners services to better understand the sensitivities of the needs of the bereaved families. A strict time frame must be laid out within which training and guidance can be completed.
Improvements in services for the bereaved
Response to Question 6
Our membership observed that all faiths with urgent religious requirements to expedite the release of the body must be dealt with fairly and similarly across the board without prioritising a particular faith group. There were a considerable number of cases where members noted the Coroner Service’s ignorance of Hindu rituals resulting in an unsympathetic response from Coroners office.
There was a call for improved communication between the doctor certifying the death and the Coroners office. Hindu funeral directors expressed the opinion that bereaved families were burdened with the need to show the passport along with several other identity documents of the deceased which resulted in unnecessary delays and compounded the distress of the family.
Despite the fact that Guidance No 28 issued by the Chief Coroner in May 2018 relating to decision making and expedited decisions was to apply to all faiths, the sentiments of the post-death rituals of Hindu faith have been overlooked.
A Faith Disparity Audit of the Coroner Service with a view to shining light on how bereaved families from different faiths are treated would be welcomed by HFB and its member organisations. The findings and the recommendations would, we hope, redress the imbalance in service offered by the Coroner Service to the Hindu community.
Other improvements can take into account good practices such as followed in other parts of the UK, for instance where the GP services are not involved, allowing for a quick release of the body. There are also technological processes in place that Coroner Services are availing in some parts of the country, leading to a faster process in those areas. Such processes should be rolled out uniformly across all Coroner Services. We would also encourage that the process be made chronological to ensure fairness to all families who have lost a loved one. It is imperative that for a sympathetic and understanding service, the Coroner Service liaises with relevant local faith organisations, the local authorities and the NHS Trust.
Fairness in the Coroners system
Response to Question 7
Systemic failures in fairness to grieving Hindu families were reported by our membership. Distinct lack of understanding of Hindu funeral practices led to unsympathetic response from the Coroners service. There were instances where religious reason was not deemed sufficient to expedite the release of the body. This is contrary to guidelines set out in Guidance No 28 issued by the Chief Coroner in May 2018. The Coroners were not open to representations on the grounds that a particular case of a deceased Hindu should be treated as a matter of urgency due to religious reasons.
The Hindu community fared worse because Hindus show acceptance of a decision and are not over-bearing in demands. A balance needs to be achieved so that a well-founded request for acceleration of processes at the Coroner Office is dealt with fairly and swiftly.
The following key regional member organisations in England and Wales, as well as other organisations responded to the survey:
1) Hindu Council of the North UK
2) Hindu Council of Brent
3) Hindu Council of Birmingham
4) Shree Prajapati Samaj UK