Law and religion round-up – 27th June

“I have a song to sing, O…”

…However, we will refrain from commenting further. This approach didn’t do Jack Point any favours – perhaps we should “consider the matter closed”?

Outdoor weddings in England and Wales

On 21 June, Russell Sandberg explored Outdoor weddings in England and Wales: the truth behind the headlines, in which he described the development as a welcome change, although a modest and limited one; “[i]t does not answer the now deafening call for fuller reform of marriage law and there is a risk that this change might be wrongly seen as the ‘fix’”. In their article in The Conversation, below, Rajnaara Akhtar and Rebecca Probert note that due to COVID-19 restrictions, register offices offering legal unions have very long waiting lists. A similar view was expressed by an organization representing wedding celebrants, which stated:

“Many venues have registered some quite flimsy structures in their grounds to facilitate the demand for outdoor ceremonies whilst keeping to the letter of the regulations. Local register offices have been complicit in this by licensing these structures so that the actual “marriage” can take place in a structure…

…But this small increase in venue capacity does nothing to solve the problem that in most regions register offices have stopped taking bookings at any venue, inside, outside, at the register office or anywhere else. The bottleneck is primarily with the registrars, not venues.”

Defining “outdoors”

Under the present marriage legislation, in order to hold legal outdoor weddings and civil partnership registrations, a venue must be Approved Premises or must become Approved Premises under the Marriages and Civil Partnerships (Approved Premises) Regulations 2005, as amended. Under these provisions, premises which seek approval must comprise a permanent built structure (or permanently moored vessel) with at least one room which is to be approved for civil weddings and civil partnership registration.  It was announced that, under the proposed amended Regulations, such premises if approved can also use any outdoor areas in the same venue to hold civil weddings and civil partnership registrations. Existing Approved Premises will be permitted to use any outdoor areas in the venue for civil wedding and civil partnership registrations without having to re-apply for approval, subject to certain conditions.

From 1 July 2021, ceremonies will be able to take place fully outdoors or under a partially covered structure if this has at least a 50% open area (the same definition used for the smoking ban and guidance to COVID-19 regulations on wedding receptions in England).  The location for the ceremony must be assessed to be seemly and dignified. Other requirements for public access and signage must also be met.

Raising the minimum age for marriage in England & Wales?

On 16 June in the Commons, Sajid Javid presented the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill: “a Bill to make provision about the minimum age for marriage and civil partnership; and for connected purposes”. It is to be read a second time on Friday 19 November. (Presumably the Bill will be taken on by someone else now that Javid has replaced Matt Hancock as Health Secretary.)

There have been various private Member’s bills on this in recent Sessions, and from previous experience one might assume that it would make hardly any progress. However, The Telegraph reported a Ministry of Justice spokesman as saying that “The Government supports raising the legal age for marriage to protect vulnerable children and will outline its next steps in due course.” On Monday, the Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, went further, telling Times Radio that

“It’s no secret that the principle of the need to protect children and young people is very much at the core of my thinking, which is why I do believe that the age of marriage should be raised … There are too many examples, I’m afraid, of the mechanism of parental consent – which of course was originally designed to protect young people from making perhaps ill-advised life choices – being frankly misused to commoditise marriage and to propagate what I think is child abuse.”

Which is interesting. The obvious question is this: if the legal age for marriage in England & Wales is raised to 18, will marriages of 16- and 17-year-olds in Scotland and Northern Ireland continue to be recognised as valid in England & Wales? (We forbear from speculating about the possibility of 16- and 17-year-olds eloping to Gretna Green.)

Physical distancing in Scotland

On 22 June, the Scottish Government published Coronavirus (COVID-19): review of physical distancing in Scotland – June 2021 which “sets out the outcome of a review of physical distancing in public places, taking account of the science, and the current and projected state of the epidemic in Scotland in light of our vaccine roll-out and the ‘four harms’ of the virus”. Also this week, the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions and Requirements) (Local Levels) (Scotland) Amendment (No. 29) Regulations 2021 came into force. In addition to make temporary adjustments to hospitality closing times in Levels 1 and 2 during the latter stages of the UEFA EURO 2020 Championship, they now provide a relaxation of the social distancing requirements in relation to: funerals; the British Lions v Japan match. at Murrayfield on 26 June 2021; and weddings.

With regard to funerals, “[t]hese regulations adjust the physical distancing requirements so that persons who are carrying a coffin or assisting to lower a coffin into the lair [burial plot] are not required to follow the physical distancing requirement while doing so”. We wonder how these tasks were meant to be undertaken until now if a distancing of 2m were to be observed.

Quick links

And finally…

From Lexology, The UN Convention on the rights of the child: What will it mean for Scotland’s third sector, by three solicitors from Brodies LLP:

“The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 16 March 2021. It marks the first time the Scottish Parliament has created enforceable domestic law rights by reference to an international treaty. It will introduce significant changes…”

And so it will – but only if it survives the challenge to vires by the Attorney General and the Advocate General for Scotland which is currently awaiting a hearing in the Supreme Court.

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