The Law Commission has begun its review of wedding law in England and Wales, having agreed on the Terms of Reference for the project with the Government. The project will:
- consider where a wedding should be able to take place;
- consider how to remove unnecessary “red tape” which can hamper choice and increase the cost of wedding venues;
- aim to ensure that the law works for all couples and all faiths, including those who are not as well served by the current buildings-based system; and
- seek to make the law simpler and more certain, so that it is clear whether or not a couple’s marriage is legally valid.
The remit for the project includes developing a scheme that would allow non-religious belief groups such as humanists, and independent celebrants, to celebrate weddings, enabling Government to widen the routes to legally binding ceremonies should it chooses to do so.
The project, first announced by Government in the 2018 Budget, follows on from the Law Commission’s 2015 Scoping Paper, in which it outlined a range of problems with the current law, which largely dates from 1836.
The Commission’s recommendations will be based on five principles:
- certainty and simplicity;
- fairness and equality;
- protecting the state’s interest;
- respecting individuals’ wishes and beliefs; and
- removing any unnecessary regulation of venues which can hamper choice and increase the cost for couples.
The Commission will consider:
- the legal preliminaries that should be required prior to a wedding;
- where weddings should be able to take place, considering, for example, weddings outdoors, at sea and on military sites, with a view to removing restrictive regulations;
- who should be able to solemnize a marriage, including considering how a scheme could include weddings conducted by non-religious belief organisations and independent celebrants;
- whether specific vows should be required during a ceremony;
- how marriages should be registered; and
- what the consequences should be for couples who do not comply with any requirements.
The Commission will not be making recommendations on whether as a matter of policy new groups should be allowed to conduct legally-binding weddings, which it regards as a decision for the Government.
The review will not consider:
- who is eligible to enter into marriage;
- the question of whether or not religious groups should be obliged to solemnize marriages of same sex couples;
- the rights or responsibilities which marriage creates, such as the financial entitlements of surviving spouses or the consequences of divorce;
- the Church of England’s and the Church in Wales’s duty to conduct marriage ceremonies for their parishioners;
- the grounds on which a marriage can be void or voidable other than those grounds that relate to a failure to comply with the required formalities;
- the law of divorce, including the issues that can arise when a civil divorce has been granted but a religious one has not;
- how the law deals with marriages that have taken place in other jurisdictions; and
- ancillary wedding services unrelated to the law governing how and where people can legally marry, such as flowers and catering, including any cost or choice difficulties for consumers in relation to those services.