Earlier this year, the new electronic marriage register for England and Wales came into operation. Further to this, as part of the government’s “digital by default” agenda, The Births and Deaths Registration (Electronic Communications and Electronic Storage) Order 2021, SI 2021/1231 was laid before Parliament on 4 November, and comes into force on 1 December 2021. Accompanying the SI is an Explanatory Memorandum (EM) and an Impact Assessment (IA) by the Home Office, extracts from which are reproduced below.
The provisions for registering a birth or death are contained in the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953. The 1953 Act is a consolidation of legislation dating back to 1836 and is “very much a paper-based system”. The Coronavirus Act 2020 amended the Act to put easements in place for the registration of deaths and allowed paper-based processes to be carried out electronically during the pandemic. These easements are time-limited and will cease to operate by March 2022 at the latest. Legislation is therefore required to enable the electronic transmission of documents to continue and to extend the electronic transmission of documentation to births as well as deaths.
The IA lists the groups affected as:
- The Home Office, the Civil Registration Directorate and General Registrar Office.
- The Local Registration Service (LRS) who will be able to transmit and receive documentation electronically when registering births, still births and deaths removing the requirement to send documentation by post saving time and resource.
- Businesses who interact and deal with registration services, for example, funeral directors who will benefit from digital documentation and save on processes associated with paper documentation.
- Other services associated with civil registration, for example, medical practitioners and cremation/burial authorities who will receive the required documentation more quickly leading to a more efficient service for the public.
- Members of the public will also benefit from digital documentation, less travel time, less physical interaction with registration and associated services and less waiting time.
The changes to primary legislation, the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953, are made by the Order under the Electronic Communications Act 2000. The Order amends the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1926 (c. 48) (the “1926 Act”) and the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 (c. 20) (the “1953 Act”) to enable the use of electronic communications and storage for certain documents used in connection with the registration of births and deaths.
Article 2 amends the 1926 Act to enable the electronic transmission of death registration documents and notifications between the registrars and the persons effecting the disposal of the bodies.
Article 3 amends the 1953 Act to enable any notice, information, declaration, certificate, requisition, return or other document required under that Act to be provided by sending that document, or a copy of it, in an electronic form approved by the Registrar General. The amendments also enable certain prescribed declarations and certificates under the Act to be in an electronic form approved by the Registrar General.
The Explanatory Notes say that the General Register Office is developing guidance for key stakeholders, e.g. registration officials in England and Wales, which will be made available on gov.uk prior to implementation.