Conducting church services outdoors has been mooted as a possible step in the relaxation of lockdown provisions, although graveside funerals are presently permitted, provided they meet the restrictions on “gatherings” and the advised “social distancing” is observed. In a new development, The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Amendment No. 5) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 SR 2020/96 provide for conducting marriage and civil partnership ceremonies outdoors.
As from 7 June 2020 (ref.1), the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 SI 2020/55 are amended to include inter alia the following changes:
- Regulation 4 is further amended to allow providers of holiday accommodation to provide services, other than accommodation, in response to enquiries or bookings received, and to allow a place of worship to open for the purpose of solemnising a marriage ceremony, subject to the ceremony taking place outdoors and a total number of ten persons being present.
- Regulation 5 is further amended to provide that an outdoor activity may be undertaken in or by an outdoor sports facility and to add to the list of reasonable excuses for leaving the place where a person is living the need to attend to the care or welfare of animals or to attend or participate in an outdoor marriage or civil partnership ceremony, with consequential amendments to Schedule 2.
- Regulation 6B is inserted, to allow for a total number of ten persons to participate in an outdoor gathering to celebrate a marriage or civil partnership ceremony.
With regard to marriages in the Church of Ireland, its Marriage Regulations for marriages in Northern Ireland state [emphasis in original]:
3. Solemnisation of Marriage
(iii) The ceremony must only be carried out in a church or chapel of the Church of Ireland duly consecrated for public worship. Marriages shall NOT be solemnised at any place other than a church or chapel of the Church of Ireland duly consecrated for public worship unless the circumstances are wholly exceptional and the prior approval of the relevant bishop has been obtained. The marriage schedule issued under the Order will specify the place in which the marriage is to take place.
(2) Subject to paragraph (3), these Regulations come into operation at 11.00 pm on 7th June 2020.
(3) Insofar as they relate to regulation 6A of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020, this regulation and regulations 2(6) and (7) and 3 come into operation at 11.00 pm on 5th June 2020.