Current project status
The current status of this project is: Analysis of responses.
List of project stages:
- Analysis of responses
- Initiation: Could include discussing scope and terms of reference with lead Government Department
- Pre-consultation: Could include approaching interest groups and specialists, producing scoping and issues papers, finalising terms of project
- Consultation: Likely to include consultation events and paper, making provisional proposals for comment
- Policy development: Will include analysis of consultation responses. Could include further issues papers and consultation on draft Bill
- Reported: Usually recommendations for law reform but can be advice to government, scoping report or other recommendations
A reformed law of weddings that will allow couples greater choice within a simple, fair and consistent legal structure, so that people can have a wedding that’s meaningful to them. The Law Commission’s consultation on its provisional proposals to reform the law governing how and where couples can get married closed on 4 January 2021. We are now analysing consultees’ responses, which will inform development of our final policy, to be published in a report with recommendations for Government in the second half of 2021.
(This project was previously called “Marriage Law”)
The main law which governs marriage is from 1836 and has failed to keep pace with modern life.
How and where marriages can take place is tightly regulated, and differs depending on the type of wedding. At present, couples have to make a choice between a religious or a civil ceremony, with no option for a ceremony reflecting other beliefs. Couples having an Anglican wedding can give notice to the church; all other couples must give notice at the register office. With few exceptions, all couples must have their wedding either in a place of worship or licensed secular venue, and cannot marry outdoors or even in the garden of a licensed venue.
If a couple does not comply with the legal requirements, which may happen with some religious ceremonies, their marriage may not be legally recognised. People often only discover their lack of legal status at the time of relationship breakdown. This means the parties have no legal status or protection and are not counted as married.
In our Consultation Paper launched on 3 September 2020, we suggest a comprehensive new legislative scheme to update the law governing each aspect of the process of getting married.
To modernise and improve wedding law, our proposals include changes that would:
- Allow weddings to take place outdoors, for example on beaches, in parks, in private gardens and on the grounds of current wedding venues.
- Allow weddings to take place in a wider variety of buildings (for example in private homes) and on cruise ships.
- Offer couples greater flexibility over the form their wedding ceremonies will take, enabling them, if they desire, to use a variety of ceremonies (religious and non-religious) to mark their weddings.
- Simplify the process and remove unnecessary red tape to make it fair to couples, more efficient, and easier to follow. For example, couples will be able to complete the initial stage of giving notice of their intended wedding online or by post, rather than having to do so in person.
- Provide a framework that could allow non-religious belief organisations (such as Humanists) and/or independent celebrants to conduct legally binding weddings.
- Ensure that fewer weddings conducted according to religious rites result in a marriage that the law does not recognise at all.
During the consultation period, the Law Commission hosted a series of virtual Q&A events on the consultation paper.
The background to the project
The Consultation Paper follows on from the scoping work we conducted in 2015. In December 2014, Government asked the Law Commission to conduct a review of the law governing how and where people can marry in England and Wales. We published our Scoping Paper in December 2015, in which we concluded that there was a need for a wholescale review of the law in this area. Government announced in the 2018 Budget that it would ask us to conduct a full law reform project, and after agreeing Terms of Reference, we began work in July 2019.
Terms of Reference
The scope of our project is set by the Terms of Reference agreed between the Law Commission and Government. The project seeks to provide recommendations for a reformed law of weddings that allows for greater choice within a simple, fair and consistent legal structure.
The review is guided by five principles for reform:
- Certainty and simplicity
- Fairness and equality
- Protecting the state’s interest
- Respecting individuals’ wishes and beliefs
- Removing any unnecessary regulation, so as to increase the choice and lower the cost of wedding venues for couples.
As part of the project, the Law Commission is considering:
- 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. The Law Commission will not, however, be making recommendations on whether as a matter of policy new groups should be allowed to conduct legally binding weddings.
- Whether specific vows should be required during a ceremony.
- How marriages should be registered.
- What the consequences should be for couples who do not comply with any requirements.
Our full Terms of Reference are available here.
Government’s separate work
Alongside the Law Commission project, Government will take forward separate work to explore what can be done to deliver interim reform within the existing buildings-based system for certain civil ceremonies. Government will explore the extent to which regulations governing approved premises could be reformed to allow outdoor locations for civil weddings and civil partnership ceremonies, whilst maintaining the requirement that venues be seemly and dignified.
Government has committed as part of the integrated communities strategy to exploring the legal and practical challenges of limited reform relating to the law on marriage and religious weddings, based on the recommendations of the Independent Sharia Review. Government is taking forward this work separately from the Law Commission’s wider review of the law on marriage ceremonies.
Government will ensure that it considers the work and recommendations of the Law Commission as it takes forward its separate work following the recommendation of the Independent Sharia Review.
Timing and next steps
We conducted a public consultation on our provisional proposals between 3 September 2020 and 4 January 2021. We are now analysing the responses to our consultation, which inform the development of our final recommendations for reform. We are aiming to publish the final report, with these recommendations to Government, in the second half of 2021.
For general enquiries, please contact us by email: email@example.com
Area of law
Property, family and trust law
Professor Nicholas Hopkins