The Law Commission has just issued their report recommending an overhaul of the law that governs getting married.
Who are the Law Commission?
The Law Commission is an independent statutory body created by the Law Commissions Act 1965 to keep the law of England and Wales under review and to recommend reform where needed. The aim of the Commission is to ensure that laws are fair, modern, simple and cost effective.
What is the law at the moment?
The Marriage Act 1949 governs who can get married, where they can get married and who can marry them. There have been some amendments to allow for same sex marriage. The suggested amendments would mean a wholesale overhaul, changing formalities around getting married – for example, notices to be given.
What are the changes recommended?
The Law Commission say:
We recommend comprehensive reform from the foundations up: an entirely new scheme to govern weddings law. Our recommendations will transform the law from a system based on regulation of buildings to one based on regulation of the officiant responsible for the ceremony.
This change will remove the many unnecessary restrictions in the current law. It will also help to address unfairness in the treatment of different groups, who with very few exceptions are treated equally under our recommended scheme.
While offering greater freedoms to couples, the reforms are also designed to preserve the dignity of weddings, to retain important safeguards and to protect the longstanding practices and rules of religious groups.
These changes are not without precedent. They would bring England and Wales in line with laws in other places including those nearby in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Ireland, Jersey, and Guernsey, and further afield such as New Zealand, Canada and Australia.
So, in simple terms?
- Couples will be able to give notice of their intended wedding online, and to choose the registration district where they are then interviewed by a registration officer. Anglican preliminaries (for example, banns) will be retained for Anglican weddings.
- Notice of upcoming weddings will be published online so that the information is accessible to the wider community.
- Couples will be able to have a wedding ceremony that reflects their values and beliefs, by:
- having a religious ceremony in a venue other than a place of worship and without having to incorporate prescribed words into the ceremony;
- having a religious ceremony led by an interfaith minister that contains aspects of each of the couple’s beliefs;
- having some religious elements, such as hymns and prayers, incorporated into their civil ceremony, as long as the ceremony remains identifiably civil.
- If permitted by Government to conduct weddings, non-religious belief organisations (such as Humanists) would be able to do so on the same basis as religious organisations.
- Couples will be able to get married in a much wider variety of locations, including:
- outside, in a place unconnected with any building, such as in a forest, on a beach, or in a local park;
- in affordable local venues, such as community centres and village halls, as well as in their own homes;
- in international waters on cruise ships that are registered in the UK.
- If permitted by Government to conduct weddings, independent officiants (that is, officiants who are not registration officers and are not affiliated to a religious or non-religious belief organisation) will be able to conduct civil weddings.
- There will be much greater clarity as to the consequences that follow when a couple has not complied with the required formalities, and fewer weddings conducted according to religious rites will result in a wedding that the law does not recognise at all.
GREAT! So we can get booking now?
Umm… No. There has been some relaxation over getting married outdoors arising out of Covid and then left in place post Covid. This report, however, is a recommendation from the Law Commission only. It is a recommendation to Parliament, so it is important BUT it has to be turned in law for it to be effective and all of the administration changes built and ready to go before it can be effective. This is a mammoth job, I think, as it is recommending change from the ground up. Changing law still seems to go at a glacial pace. For example, in 1976, the Family Law Sub Committee of the Law Society were advocating for a change in divorce law. The Law Commission report issued in 1990 recommended change to our divorce laws. The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 only came into effect on 6 April 2022.
Don’t go reserving a spot at the beach just yet…..
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