Readers may remember that in December 2014 the Government asked the Law Commission to conduct a review of the law governing how and where people can marry in England and Wales. The question underlying the review was whether the current law provides a fair and coherent legal framework for enabling people to marry. The Commission agreed to carry out an initial piece of work to prepare the way for potential future reform and conducted a preliminary study involving researching domestic and comparative law and engaging with key stakeholders, with the aim of identifying the issues that needed to be addressed and providing an initial analysis. The Commission completed the initial phase at the end of 2015 and published a scoping paper setting out its findings.
We now learn that on 11 September Dominic Raab, the Minister of State for Justice, wrote to the Commissioner in charge of the project, Professor Nick Hopkins, to say that the Government was not taking the project forward because priority was being given to reforms to address the increase in public and private family law cases currently putting pressure on the justice system; however, he had not ruled out the option of further Law Commission work on marriage law in the future and was keeping the situation under review.
The Law Commission’s response of 26 October is tinged with a degree of disappointment:
“Judging by what we have been told during consultation for our 13th Programme, the pressure for change in relation to marriage law – or at least for a comprehensive review of the area – is unlikely to diminish. In particular, there are high-profile campaigns by humanist groups (who have recently successfully challenged weddings legislation in Northern Ireland) and those concerned about religious-only marriage (which is being considered by the Sharia law review, set up by the Prime Minister when Home Secretary). Both of these issues have been regularly raised in Parliament and the media.”
As the Commission notes in its response to the Minister, this is a complex area of the law that needs wide consultation, so any law reform options would take time to formulate. As the Commission also notes, this is not an issue that is going to go away.