On 28 June, the Lord Chancellor and the Prime Minister announced a two-year project by the Law Commission to review the current laws on how and where marriages can take place – many of which date back to the 19th Century. The press release says that the review
“It will look at removing unnecessary red-tape to increase the choice and lower the cost of venues. It could open up opportunities for civil ceremonies at sea, in private homes or military sites for service personnel.
Subject to the findings from the independent Law Commission the changes would ensure couples can marry in a way that is individually meaningful for them, while continuing to preserve the dignity of marriage ceremonies.
Separately, the Government will accelerate plans to allow civil weddings and civil partnerships to be held outside and will look to implement these through secondary legislation, subject to any necessary consultation.”
Under the current law in England and Wales, civil ceremonies must take place at a register office or in approved premises that have been licensed for the purpose by local authorities. The press release says that “Any new venues would have to meet the existing test of solemnity and dignity”. While the Government says that it recognises the role of religious services as a preferred option for many couples and “values the continuing status of the Church of England as the established church in England”, it points to the concerns raised in the Law Commission’s scoping exercise in 2015, Getting Married: a scoping paper,which “raised concerns around marriage laws, citing a patchwork of inconsistent and highly technical provisions, which have lacked fundamental reform since 1836”.
“The Law Commission will now work with a wide variety of groups, including faith leaders and those with experience of conducting marriages, to examine how best to reduce red tape and ensure we have a simpler, fairer system that provides more choice, genuine alternatives to the cost of an approved venue or being restricted to a register office.”
It will be interesting to see how the project unfolds, given that the Law Commission’s 2015 scoping paper pointed out all of above at the time but not approved by the MoJ for further work. The emphasis on simplification and reducing costs is hardly surprising, given that the initial announcement of the proposed project was made as part of the 2018 Budget. And “genuine alternatives to the cost of an approved venue” might suggest a possible move away from the present system of licensing both “approved persons” and buildings, towards licensing approved celebrants, as in Scotland and Northern Ireland – in which case it might become possible to make proper provision for humanist weddings.