Following its June 2019 notification regarding changes to the registration of marriage, on 5 August the Faculty Office issued a report on the implementation of the provisions regarding the registration of marriage under the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019. The August report is reproduced below in its present form, including the changes made since its initial publication.
It notes that the General Register Office (GRO) is under pressure from ministers to bring these changes into effect as soon as possible; when first published, it was suggested that this should be by 2 December 2019, although this was changed to “before the end of the year”, (which then appeared to reflect the unrelated requirement within the Act to extend civil partnership to opposite-sex couples by the end of the year; the text below has been modified accordingly). A further update indicated that there was still a degree of uncertainty as the necessary Regulations had not yet been laid before Parliament.
The subsequent proroguing of Parliament, swiftly followed by its dissolution, has further delayed the opportunity for the necessary Regulations to be laid. As we noted in our 1 December 2019 round-up:
“The new Parliament will be summoned to meet on Tuesday 17 December, when the business will be the election of the Speaker and the swearing-in of members. Should this Prime Minister return, the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen’s Speech, with “reduced ceremonial” … will follow on Thursday 19 December. If there is a change of Government following the Election, it is anticipated that the Queen’s Speech would be in January on a more usual timetable; but this would be a matter for the incoming administration”.
On 9 August, the Church of England Church issued a statement on marriage registration changes, with links to the Faculty Office document.
Marriage Law News
You may already be aware that the way in which marriages are registered is set to change following the passing into law of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019 which, as well as providing for opposite-sex couples to be able to enter into civil partnerships, will allow for mother’s names to be included in Marriage Registers as well as/in place of father’s names. It also makes provision for significant changes in the way that marriages are registered.
Representatives of the Faculty Office and the Legal Offices of the Church of England and Church in Wales have been in discussion with the General Register Office (GRO) about the proposed changes which they under pressure from Government Ministers to bring into effect as soon as possible – and despite our collective representations, the GRO are proposing to bring in the changes before the end of the year*. A number of issues remain to be resolved including the provision of a workable secure system to produce the new documentation and time to train the 20,000+ clergy who are able to conduct weddings in both Churches.
In essence the proposals will replace Marriage Registers and Marriage Certificates (issued at the time of the wedding) with a Marriage Document which will be prepared by the officiating priest before the wedding. At the ceremony, the Marriage Document will be signed by the couple, their witnesses and the officiating priest (in much the same way as the Registers are currently). The significant difference is that the couple will then need to ensure that the Marriage Document is deposited at the local Register Office within 7* days of the date of the wedding and the local Superintendent Registrar will then record the details and issue the couple with a Marriage Certificate (for which there will be a fee). The couple can ask someone to lodge the Marriage Document on their behalf (as in many cases they will, of course, be on honeymoon!) but it is their responsibility NOT the officiating minister’s responsibility, to ensure that it is done.
As an interim measure, the Marriage Document will be available in a number of formats, including a manual format and a ‘type and print’ facility. The Regulations envisage that eventually there will be a secure online portal to which clergy will require access as there is provision for couples to be reminded by email from the General Register Office if they have not lodged the Document within the required period.
For marriages that currently take place by Superintendent Registrar’s Certificates, the SRC will be replaced by a “Marriage Schedule” which will be produced by the Register Office taking Notice of the Marriage and that Schedule will then be signed by all the parties including the officiating priest once the marriage has taken place and, again, will have to be lodged with the Register Office within 7* days.
Immediately following implementation, the existing marriage register books held in churches will need to be closed. The incumbent, or in a vacancy the Area/Rural Dean, will be responsible for closing the registers by striking through any unused entry spaces. One copy of the register will then need to be returned to the local Superintendent Registrar together with any unused marriage certificate stock. The other copy of the register is to be retained in the church until such time as it is to be deposited in the Diocesan Record Office.
There is a proposal that, in due course there will be a register book for marriages solemnized in Anglican churches in the same way as baptisms, confirmations and burials. However that will be an internal matter for the CofE and nothing to do with the GRO and it will not be the legal record of marriages, nor will be certificates issued from it. The Legal Office will advise further on this in due course. It is not immediately clear if the Church in Wales has anything similar in mind.
Before the new system goes live, some training will be provided by the GRO. However, it is unlikely that the GRO will have the resources to provide face-to-face training for all clergy and there will need to be a degree of co-operation with the dioceses. The GRO will however provide “awareness” (probably online and by mail-out) and a dedicated helpline available Monday – Saturday as well as a 24 hour emergency line. It is also intended to provide a printed aide-memoire to be placed in the vestry and which will include the emergency numbers and reminder of the new system. As regards training on the new system, it has been agreed that the Diocesan Registrars will be the most appropriate point of contact from the GRO to co-ordinate this.
These changes are significant, both for clergy and the couples and it essential that all clergy who conduct marriages are aware of them to ensure that the law is complied with and that couples’ marriages are validly conducted and properly registered. As further details become available we will post details on our website and Church House, Westminster and The Representative Body of the Church in Wales will also communicate the details through the dioceses and any relevant national networks.
[* Additional text: “As the necessary Regulations have not yet been laid before Parliament, the implementation timescale and the timelines for lodging a completed Marriage Document/Schedule with the Registry Office set out in this article remain liable to revision.”]
5 August 2019
Our March post Opposite sex civil partnerships considered the time constraints within various provisions of the Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019. With regard to the time constraints within the Act on introducing secondary legislation, the only restriction relating to marriage registration is section 1(6), which states:
“No regulations may be made by the Secretary of State under this section after a period of three years beginning with the day on which regulations are first so made.”
However, section 2(2) on the extension of civil partnership includes a “sunset clause”; this requires the Secretary of State” to exercise the power in section 2(1) so that such regulations are in force no later than 31 December 2019″. In addition, section 2(8) provides that “Regulations under subsection (3), (5) or (7) may include provision amending, repealing or revoking primary legislation passed or made before the end of the Session in which this Act is passed”.
Although sections 1(2)(d) and 1(3) of the Act provide a framework for requiring a Marriage Document to be lodged with the Register Office, the primary legislation makes no reference to a 7-day limit. Our post Enforcing the registration of marriages – lessons from Scotland considers these issues further.
Update: On 14 January 2020, the House of Commons Library published the research briefing on Mothers’ details on marriage certificates which concluded: “The detail of the new marriage registration scheme will be set out in regulations which have not yet been published. The timing of the regulations is not yet known. The regulations will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, meaning that they require the approval of both Houses of Parliament to become law.”