The end of banns in England?

The Revd Stephen Trott has tabled a Private Member’s Motion at General Synod, as follows:


The Revd Stephen Trott (Peterborough) to move:

“That this Synod, noting the Registration of Marriages Regulations 2015 and the growing burden and complexity of the legal requirements imposed on members of the clergy who conduct weddings in the Church of England, invite the Archbishops’ Council to bring forward draft legislation to replace ecclesiastical preliminaries to marriage by universal civil preliminaries, such as those which have been in operation in Scotland … when banns were replaced by a Marriage Schedule issued by the civil registrar.”

He has raised the issue before. In a letter to the then Clerk to Synod in 2010, he pointed out that the genesis of the banns system was the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 and suggested that it had outlived its usefulness. Instead, he proposed that:

“1. Banns of Matrimony will only be published in future as a purely ecclesiastical requirement, and only in the parish church or place of worship where the intended marriage is to take place;

2. the repeal of s.5(a) of the Marriage Act 1949, which permits solemnisation of a marriage after the publication of banns of matrimony;

3. this will leave only three routes by which a marriage may lawfully be solemnised by the clergy of the Church of England: by common licence, by special licence, or by superintendent registrar’s certificate;

4. in other words, the great majority of those who wish to be married in church will have first to obtain a “marriage licence” from the state to present to the minister who is to solemnise their marriage, transferring the responsibility for all legal issues to the state, which regulates such matters. In this way the minister will be able to prepare the couple for Christian marriage, safe in the knowledge that they have already obtained leave to be married lawfully via the local register office;

5. if the clergy are permitted to retain their current discretion as to whether or not to accept a Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate, they will be able to refer any case to the diocesan registrar for consideration for a common licence, where additional advice is needed for any reason;

6. the “marriage licence” as the law stands would be a Superintendent Registrar’s Certificate. It may be that the government would wish to modernise the procedures and the terminology, and actually designate such a document as a Marriage Licence, and that we might be permitted as a Synod to amend the 1949 Act accordingly.”

Since then, nothing has happened.


Banns were abolished in Scotland by the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977; and the Church of Scotland abolished any internal canonical requirement for banns by passing a reciprocal Act of Assembly: Act III 1978 Anent Proclamation of Banns. And the Marriage (Northern Ireland) Order 2003 makes similar provision for Northern Ireland.

What is not mentioned in Stephen Trott’s motion – because it is not a matter for the Church of England or relevant to the deliberations of Synod – is the fact that, normally, calling the banns is also a necessary preliminary to marriage in the Church in Wales (with, as in England, the alternative of a common licence or a special licence). So a change in the law in the way he suggests will result in England and Wales being out of phase, as they were for a time on the issue of marriage of those with a “qualifying connection” with a particular church. That situation was ultimately remedied by the enactment of the Marriage (Wales) Act 2010; our understanding is that, should the Church of England change the law on banns by Measure, the Church in Wales, if it wishes to keep in step, will have to seek a change in the law by finding a friendly MP to promote a private Member’s bill at Westminster.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the Government has already asked the Law Commission to undertake a broad review of the law concerning marriage ceremonies and the Commission is currently scoping that review. Perhaps the adequacy of the banns system in ensuring that couples are lawfully married under secular law could usefully be part of the exercise.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "The end of banns in England?" in Law & Religion UK, 25 November 2015,

7 thoughts on “The end of banns in England?

  1. Good to see this archaic process, which is clearly unsuitable for 21st Century society, being phased out. I believe that further modernisations are needed. Some may be drawn from unlikely sources. I made a contribution to the Department of Justice public consultation. I will email it to anyone who wishes to see it. I am happy to allow Law and Religion to use or provide my email address for this purpose.

  2. The SRC process, posting names at the relevant register office(s), is no more effective, and less personal and prayerful, in alerting would-be objectors. Better, as Alan Rogers says, to await review of all marriage registration issues.

    My record is 26 sets of ‘home’ banns one month. On another occasion I pressed for banns rather than a licence because I suspected he was not freely consenting, to give friends present the opportunity to object – but they didn’t.

    As for being ‘out of phase’: there is one diocese which is relevant to Synod where English-style banns cannot be called – Europe, where the preliminaries are determined by local national law. And for anoraks, there is also the question of reading banns on board ship (how often does this happen?) and arrangements for service personnel…

  3. I suspect there’s no simple fix for making sure that legitimate objectors are alerted. In Scotland the Notice of Intended Marriage is posted on a notice-board outside the office of the district registrar. When Helen and I got married in 2006 there were enough people who knew us who would be passing through Portree during the notice period to ensure that, had they believed that there was any impediment to our marriage, they would have informed the registrar pdq. But I doubt if that would be equally the case had we married in Glasgow or Edinburgh.

    All that is maybe TMI. But banns must be equally hit-or-miss, if not more so: fine if one or other the parties is a member of the church in question, but maybe not so effective if it’s an urban parish with a huge population and neither party has ever set foot in the church. (Incidentally, I was talking about this to a Roman Catholic parish priest of my acquaintance only this afternoon; and he said that Roman Catholics had given up calling banns a long time ago and there didn’t seem much wrong with the current [civil] registration system.)

    • The comment from the Catholic Priest is interesting. In my submission to the Min. of Justice public consultation I used as an exemplar the Austrian procedure which is in line with the separation of Church and State which I think is the only basis for a peaceful multi-cultural society. You will be aware that Catholicism is the predominant religion in Austria.

      • Myself, I’d adopt the Scottish model, not least because it’s the one close to home and it’s been operating perfectly well since 1977. But I don’t disagree with you.

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