Law Commission: changes to Wedding Law

Friday 6th November 2020

The Law Commission held a public Q&A session to discuss their Consultation paper. Below is a summary of the main highlights and the Q&A.

  • Provide your thoughts and feedback on the Law Commission’s proposal here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/7R3TH65

Main highlights of the Law Commissions proposal

  • The Law Commission’s proposal recommends that weddings will be able to take place anywhere with a revised focus on dignity & existing health and safety legislation. 
  • Rather than noting where the weddings take place. The new law would notify the officiant instead. In the case of registration officers, it may not be possible for a registrar to be identified and in this case, the location would then be listed. Once a schedule is listed, it will need to be signed and returned. Scheduled system to be introduced. 
  • There will be 5 categories of officiants including independent officiants (celebrants) 
  • Officiants will have to go through training in order for them to perform the legal requirements of marriage. Training has not yet been defined fully. 

Questions asked with a summary of the Law Commission’s answers

Q: Registration Services have their own rooms, for example in the Town Halls where they’re based, to be able to conduct marriages in. Is it proposed that registrars still have exclusivity over their own venues? This isn’t clear in the consultation.

  • Yes they would. Those who own buildings can still control who has access to those buildings. Local authorities could say that only their registrars can hold weddings in town halls. 

Q: I don’t have an issue with the concept but I think it is ill-timed. The industry needs to recover after COVID and does not need any more to deal with

  • We understand this. Our review is a general review. It was set up before COVID happened. And it is looking at wedding law and how weddings will happen in the future. We believe there is still a need to reform for the future. 
  • What we have been able to do is look at what has happened during covid. 
  • We know looking at other jurisdictions – outdoor weddings: outdoor weddings are less risky – future law much more resilient for future pandemics.
  • Also, we have been thinking about how emergency powers could help to support weddings to take place. E.g. enabling formalities – virtual weddings. We understand the impact that covid has had – we believe that this proposal will 

Q: The wedding industry has been decimated by Covid-19, how on earth will existing wedding venues have the opportunity to recover if the new proposal will allow more venues to host weddings. The venues market is already overcrowded.

  • To remove the residency requirement – this will make it possible for couples coming from overseas to get married.
  • New revisions will make Eng & Wales more attractive – would lessen people going abroad – 73000 individuals go oversea to get married 
  • The number of officiants – they had to turn business away because of the difficulty for registrars to book. Only one officiant would be needed.
  • Greater flexibility 
  • Existing venues have an existing business – service they offer – not all of the weddings that take place – smaller/family weddings 
  • Heard from existing venue owners – venues would be able to offer a wedding outside their buildings

Q: You’ve said by end 2021 that’s unfair

  • We will publish recommendations to the government in mid-2021. The legislation would have to go through parliament – changes wouldn’t be in place by end of next year. 

Q: If a venue for marriage / civil partnership isn’t stated on the schedule, how will registration services know which marriages / civil partnerships are taking place in their district? Without knowing this, it’s difficult to ensure all are registered.

  • Rather than noting where the weddings take place. They would notify the officiant instead.
  • Registration officers may not be able to be identified – location would then be listed. 
  • Once a schedule is listed, it will need to be signed and returned. Scheduled system to be introduced. Rather than listing the venues, it would be focused on the officiant. 

Q: Has the proposal concerned the risks hosting weddings in venues/spaces that aren’t managed professionally eg wedding suppliers will not be vetted correctly, risk of poor service, food poisoning etc.

  • Discussed Venues in chapter 7 of the consultation paper. The marriage act – only governs where weddings take place. Already wedding law does not vet reception venues. Planning law, licence & health and safety laws – people providing services are governed under that law.
  • Safety & dignity would be the focus. 
  • Officiant would be trained to address.

Q: You would not suddenly effectively deregulate the car industry without properly investigating the impact on the industry

  • We will do an impact assessment – chapter 13 and respond.

Q: I am in favour of most of the proposals. My query is how celebrants will be properly regulated – will some form of training and regulation fall on registrar services? What sort fo checks and balances are suggested?

  • Regulations will be focused on officiants – regulation will need to be met in order to officiate.
  • Chapter 5 – all officiants would have the same legal requirements – express consent and requirements are met and signed. They would have a responsibility for safety. 
  • 5 categories of officiants – independent officiants – independent celebrants: these individuals would be able to conduct ceremonies – more detailed requirements to show that they are fit and proper – completed training or that they have been approved. 

Q: Have you noted this year how when wedding receptions are (often illegally) held in private houses/gardens, they tend to be more unsafe and unregulated, and that enabling people to get married at home could have similar health/safety concerns in the future?

  • Other underlying health and safety regulations all continue to apply. 
  • It is not illegal to hold a wedding reception – what we anticipate is that the couple that owns the house – put concerns in the consultation response

Q: Would it still be a requirement to hold the ceremony under a cover/structure in order to keep the registers dry, or would anybody be able to get married literally anywhere?! This could be disastrous for already struggling venues if people are to be allowed to literally marry anywhere!

  • A wedding could take place at any place which is agreed between couples & officiant. Has to be safe. 
  • If you are organising a wedding, you would need to take into account the weather conditions
  • Impact on existing venues, some of the venue owners we have spoken to are keen to use their outdoor space – marketing this. 
  • That approach is not novel – it already happens in Scotland already. 
  • The demand by couples – structures outdoors that are then licenced as approved premises
  • Issues – there are different applications across England and Wales and these decisions are made by local authorities. There are a lot of differences across local authorities – this is an issue that needs to be addressed in reformed law. 

Q: Q from Ribble Valley Wedding Partnership Alcohol – clearly this is not currently permitted at or around the ceremony, what are your views regarding your proposals and if relaxed how will the dignity of the event be ensured. There doesn’t seem to be any mention in the consultation

  • We do in chapter 7 – currently, the only regulations relate to approved premises. Nothing currently to alcohol/decency. 
  • Nothing to stop people before the wedding or in another part. Some local authorities dictate you can’t serve weddings before. 
  • We focus on dignity and officiant to manage. Couples & officiant cannot be intoxicated. 

Q: If a venue had a nominated responsible person (currentl required by the licence), could they also supply a celebrant to run a ceremony? Two separate people. Also could venues have control over who could run a ceremony – and have the freedom to decline particular celebrants or individuals?

  • Our schemes propose this – independent officiants – propose that there will be a rule

Q: Why has a report to reform the wedding law been commissioned?

  • We have a weddings law from 1836 that hasn’t been reviewed properly since. 
  • The wedding law isn’t working for a lot of couples and proposes a number of restrictions
  • Out of date based on other countries
  • Asked to do scoping work by the government – immediate catalyst – focused on humanist 
  • Current law doesn’t work for religious groups – recognised by religion but not by law. 

Q: This seems to be an academic approach without any regard for the effects on a £10bn industry

  • Chapter in about impact – keen to collect thoughts. We will publish an impact piece. 
  • We do try to take into account the opinions of those affected

Q: from Ribble Valley Wedding Partnership Could the new ‘Officiant’ be an employee of a venue, this would make everything easier

  • Conflict rules have suggested that we will not permit that 

Q; what about the dignity and the legal seriousness of marriage. Naked Celebrant? People can be very strange so are we condoning that to an unlimited degree?

  • Officiant would be in control of this – proposal focuses on dignity. 
  • Current law only relates to the dignity of approved premises 

Q: What will the celebrant training look like?

  • We don’t prescribe this – we do talk about it in general terms – it would focus on the legal requirements – duties, consent & schedule signed. 
  • The guidance given focused on forced marriage. We don’t prescribe but do ask you to share your thoughts on this. 

Q: So basically all those unlucky couples who have had to postpone or cancel their weddings due to covid will now be able to sack off their original venue and potentially their associated suppliers and opt for a home-based wedding which will put so many venues and businesses out of work at the worst possible time! Why is this not now being stalled in order to give our industry a fighting chance?

  • We are not looking at those who supply services. 
  • Nor is out consultation paper looking at existing couple contracts. 
  • Looking at what wedding law will look like in the future. 
  • Proposals are not going to provide a solution for changes to wedding plans this year 

Q:Q from Ribble Valley Wedding Partnership The term ’guidance’ to officiants feels a little weak and open to interpretation, which is a concern, especially when it relates to health and safety, and accessibility. Is there not an argument for something more structured, maybe even qualified?

  • We welcome your views in the consultation response. The training that they would have to undertake will have to reflect that. If there are particular thoughts we would like to receive 

Q: Is there any merit in proposing a “certification” standard or exam that all officiants should achieve, regardless of how they are appointed, to ensure consistency across celebrants?

  • The difficulty is that this already exists and it might not be prop0ortionate to influence or affect this if is it is working. 
  • E.g. religious training exists. There would be concerns if priests have to take new training.

Q: I asked earlier about keeping the register dry – not sure you understood the question… I am asking whether if a couple choose to get married on a beach or a hilltop for example, do they have to be under a structure still (not a building, just a structure)

  • No, they would not. They would not need to be near a building. 
  • Schedule system – authorised to go ahead. The registrars wouldn’t need to bring the registrar book to the wedding. 
  • There will be one simple form for the record of marriages. 

Q: Much of the decision re the setting safety seems to be suggested will now rest with the celebrant, but you’ve said anybody can be a celebrant. They will not be qualified to make that decision

  • There will be clear processes around officiants and the training that they will have. 
  • We are not envisaging that officiants will be experts on health & safety or building experts. Officiants would look at other existing legal requirements.

Q: How would a venue check whether a celebrant was qualified and who is responsible if there is an incident? would there be a governing body for celebrants to call them to account?

  • All nominated officiants & independent officiants would be on a central database. There will be a means of checking. 
  • Governing body – the general registry body with oversight 
  • Nominated – by religious groups / non-religious belief – nominated 

Q: A lot of room for profiteering re independent celebrants being paid to perform a legal marriage – trafficking/forced marriage

  • All marriages would need to be preceded by preliminaries. 
  • Criminal activities – laws in place to support this. 

Q: Giving a couple a meaningful ceremony in a place and form that has significance for them, led by someone who understands them and uses the words that they would like is a wonderful and beautiful aspiration. Has any thought been given to explicitly ruling out certain places, however – for example abattoirs, sewage works and so on? That may seem extreme, and certainly, those places may be special to some but there should be some exceptions?

  • Interested in consulting these views. 

Q: We have spent a fortune ensuring disabled access and H&S – is that need out the window now if people can get married on top of a tree?

  • We do look at accessibility – existing rules on health & safety still apply independently of weddings law. 

Q: I’d be interested in the timescale you expect for any changes to be implemented.

  • Publish in the second half of next years – we will be providing recommendations not draft legislation. 
  • The government then to decide to accept/prepare legislation
  • The expectation that the government will give an initial response in the first 6 months and a full response within a year.

Q: is there any way that existing venues which are already licensed could automatically be ‘approved’ as a future venue, thereby making a pre-visit / inspection by an officiant unnecessary = saving cost

  • Good point. We do suggest that local authorities can keep their own list of venues that host weddings. This would prevent the need for officiants to go. 
  • That is something that we are keen on considering. 

Q: Are you prepared for say, 100,000 new celebrants and keeping a check on all of them?

  • I suspect that the number of celebrants will depend on demand. 
  • I’m not sure there would be 100,00 and as we’ve highlighted, these are questions for the government to decide. 

Q: What about giving notice? What would the rules be and who do they go and see?

  • Would be the same as they are now. With Anglican weddings – give notice to the registrar. 

Q: To not consider the ancillary services of weddings demonstrates your lack of understanding of how weddings operate and are delivered.

  • We are looking at Weddings Law – looking at the weddings itself. 

Q: would the general registrar office know whether they later got a criminal record for instance?

  • There would be an ability to withdraw their officiant authorisation withdrawn 
  • Disclosure of disclosing criminal records. These rules will continue to apply. 

Please put in your consultation responses to us! 

Additional comments
  • “We manage outdoor venues and this is a huge growth industry. We’ve also been hugely affected by Covid-19. Couples hold an outdoor blessing and then a reception in a marquee of tipi. Our couples would love it if their outdoor ceremony, could also be the legal ceremony. I think existing venues with licences should be confident that couples would still choose their venue, for service, location, catering etc rather than trying to hold onto their competitive advantage and limiting choice for couples. Venues with licences do not comprise the full wedding industry.”
  • Is there any evidence at all that the demand for traditional (country house, hotel, church) weddings will decline? These types of weddings are hugely popular – people can already have a celebrant wedding in their back garden if they want to! people seem worried that the industry will collapse which is unfounded – there will be a huge surplus of couples in the coming years who haven’t been able to marry. it may be worth showing the evidence that ‘traditional’ venues will be just as needed – if not more now that they can use their gardens/outdoor spaces?!
  • I do not support your proposal to allow weddings to be hosted virtually anywhere. This idea is very ill-thought-out and will result in the closure of many dedicated wedding venues, as the market will become saturated with the number of venues.
  • Scotland has now restrictions for weddings but we do see that weddings are still taking place
  • One thing that I do agree with is that there should only be one registrar in attendance as this would vastly improve availability and costs

Tuesday 3rd November 2020

On Tuesday, I was asked to represent our industry and the Bridebook community in the latest Law Commission consultation. A small group of industry professionals met on Zoom to discuss the provisional proposals to Wedding Law Reform. Here’s everything you need to know ahead of Friday’s public Law Commission Q&A event on weddings law reform.

The scenario
  • The Law Commission proposed that if the new law is passed, anybody will be able to apply to become an officiant.
  • Anyone looking to become an officiant will need to go through thorough training and will need to be approved by Registrars.
  • There will be a published list of official registrars and when couples give notice, they will have to list who the officiant will be.
  • Couples will be able to get married in any safe and dignified location agreed by the officiant.
As I see it, the benefits to wedding venues
  • With plentiful officiants, couples will be able to book dates and times of their marriages instantly with their venues.
  • This will speed up the venue booking process
  • There will be no more fees or red tape to be an approved premise
  • Multi-faith ceremonies can occur at your venue 
The risks to wedding venues
  • There will be increased competition in venue market place. But, we must remember that couples who have religious ceremonies are already free to choose any venue for their reception. Couples already prefer and choose approved premises already, so I believe this is a low risk.
Benefits to couples
  • Increased choice on where they get married
  • Increased ease of securing a registrar
  • More personalised ceremony 
  • Lower cost, as wider choice of officiants
  • Hugely beneficial to many faiths and religious weddings which are rather excluded by current law.
Risks to couples
  • Increased costs as officiants become a standalone professional supplier with increased demand during seasonality.
  • Officiants will require significant formal training to become an officiant, so it isn’t as easy as just asking your friend to host your ceremony.
I predict
  • Most likely this will cause an increase in the cost of weddings. Weddings will become even more personal or unique, and even a small registry office wedding will be replaced with become something much more personal, and likely more expensive. Eg Marrying on a boat or on the beach etc. Large weddings likely unaffected except for outdoor moments.  
  • Conflict that officiants choose where is safe. Currently this is the responsibility of the approved venue, hence being approved. If the officiant says they are happy to host a wedding up a mountain, are they liable for the safety of all the guests?
  • Likely damaging impact to religious premises, where marriages are a vital revenue stream eg small village churches, and due to the convenience of ceremony and reception being in one location, many of these will lose out. 
  • The industry will become even more creative as social media imagery of ceremonies occurring on boats, trains, outdoors, mountains, inspires couples to hyper-personalise even further, which often comes with added expense. 
Law Commission Agenda:
  • We have invited a range of organisations to discuss our provisional proposals, particularly as they relate to wedding venues and other vendors. The purpose of the roundtable is to facilitate an open discussion among attendees about our provisional proposals for reform.
The proposed requirements governing the ceremony
  • Couples will have to give notice to the registration service before getting married. 
  • We provisionally propose that all wedding ceremonies must be attended by an officiant. 
    • Registration officers will officiate at civil weddings;
    • Anglican clergy will officiate at Anglican weddings;
    • Officiants nominated by religious organisation will officiate at all other religious weddings;
    • If authorised to conduct legal weddings, officiants nominated by non-religious belief organisations will officiate at non-religious belief weddings; and
    • If authorised to conduct legal weddings, independent officiants will also be able to officiate at civil weddings.
  • Every officiant will have duties to ensure the requirements of the ceremony are complied with, and to uphold the dignity and solemnity of marriage. 
  • We propose that couples will be able to get married in any safe and dignified location agreed by the officiant. There will be no requirement for venues to be pre-approved by the state. Both civil and religious weddings will be permitted to take place in any type of location (but religious groups will be able to impose their own requirements about where their officiants will agree to officiate at weddings). 
  • Couples will not have to say prescribed words during the ceremony, but will have to express their consent in the presence of the officiant, each other, and two witnesses. Religious content (such as religious readings, hymns or religious imagery) will be permitted at civil wedding ceremonies. Weddings will not have to take place with open doors.
  • At the end of the ceremony, the couple, officiant and witnesses will be required to sign the schedule.
Questions

Q. Is it your experience that couples want to have their wedding ceremonies in non-approved areas of approved premises (such as outdoors)? Or in venues and locations that are not approved (eg due to cost) or that cannot be approved (eg because they are outdoors or on moving vehicles, including on water)? 

Q. Is it your experience that some couples having religious weddings want to be able to marry in secular or commercial venues?

Q. Will venues benefit from being able to offer these options to couples? Will any types of venue benefit in particular? Will any types of venue not benefit?

Q. Will venues benefit from not having to pay approval fees? From not having to meet the requirements for approval (and if so, which ones)? 

Q. Are there reasons why the location of wedding ceremonies needs particular regulation, as compared to other types of events or gatherings? 

Q. How do you think the officiant agreeing to officiate at a wedding in a given location, considering safety and dignity, would work in practice? How does it work in practice currently in relation to weddings that are not legally recognised taking place in locations that are not necessarily approved premises?

Q. Would an optional system for venues to be pre-approved be useful, or efficient?

Friday 1st November 2019

Last week I asked venues owners and managers across the UK to share their views on the Law Commission’s proposal on Wedding Law reform. Hundreds of you spoke up and as a result, Beth Wright and I were able to share representative opinions at the pre-consultation meeting on Monday.

Here’s what YOU had to say, and everything you need to know about Monday night’s meeting…

Your opinions on the proposed Wedding Law changes.

uk-wedding-industry-law-review-report-bridebook

This report, along with other Bridebook couple and industry insights have been shared with the Law Commission for their use during this project.

See an Executive Summary below and the full UK Wedding Industry Law Review report here.

Wedding Venue Business Impacts
  • UK wedding venues employ 50+ employees and work with 20+ local businesses on average.
  • Almost two-thirds of venues could not stay in business without weddings.
  • Half of the responding venues have not experienced any growth in the last 3 years due to economy, competition and couple preferences.
Venues’ Current Experience with Ceremonies
  • Ceremony space: The majority of venues host weddings ceremonies as well as receptions, and two thirds do not have an outdoor approved premise. Many express frustration related to not being able to host weddings outdoors, especially when planning permission prevents them from erecting an approved structure.
  • Regulations: While a third feel costs are too high and regulations too much, most are satisfied with current costs and regulations. They do mention that some regulations feel antiquated (e.g. room licenses) and sometimes restrictions limit business growth.
  • Registrar experience: While most report a good experience with registrars, many venues mention difficulty for couples to book registrar and overly strict registrar rules which can limit business growth.
  • Fees: Fees are inconsistent across venue and council and can range from +£100 to over £1,000.
Venue Preferences for Future
  • Location: Venues feel that approved premises should still be regulated, but that rules should be relaxed with regard to outdoor space and different room options at approved premises.
  • Celebrant: Venues feel that approved celebrants should be able to administer weddings, but that these celebrants should be regulated (e.g. not friends of the couple).

Other Ceremony Requirements:Venues are happy with regulations across many aspects of civil wedding ceremonies, and find that the current set of regulations are suitable for the formality and sanctity of marriage. However they do feel that some ceremony requirements could be relaxed.

What happened at the pre-consultation meeting on the Government Reform to Wedding Law.

What the Law Commission is doing:The Law Commission is focused solely on reviewing the law governing how and where people can marry in England and Wales.

Who are the Law Commission?The Law Commission are funded by the government but work independently in order to provide potential Law reform for the government. On average, 2/3 of the projects put forward by the Law Commission will be enacted and law will be amended.

The Facts:

  • The current laws date back from 1836 so are very dated in some places and not representative of today’s market and modern couple’s needs.
  • Based on government research 42.8% of legal marriages take place in hotels.
  • Jewish and Quakers wedding ceremonies can currently take place anywhere.
  • Currently:
  • There are different ways to give notice for different types of weddings.
  • Almost all wedding must take place in certain buildings
  • A wedding must be either civil or religious
  • The law is not clear as to the status of a wedding that was not celebrated in one of the legally authorised ways and some religious ceremonies have not been recognised
  • The law is complex and contains different rules about where a wedding can take place, depending on the type of ceremony.
  • Who attended the Commission meeting?12 wedding venue professionals with differing backgrounds in the industry including local authority representatives, registrars, London wedding venue owners and managers, outdoor wedding company owners and industry community representatives.

    What the Law Commission & Government reform will consider:
  • Whether everyone getting married should have to give notice to the register office.
  • Where couples should be able to marry such as: outside, in a private home, on board a ship, on trains – or even in Tescos!
  • Opinions for couples to express their commitment in a way that is more personal to them.
  • How the law might allow non-religious belief organisations and independent celebrants to conduct weddings.
  • What should be the minimum requirements for marriage to be recognised by law, such as: giving notice, the consent of each member of the couple, signing the paperwork etc.
  • How to eliminate unnecessary red tape.
  • What was discussed?
    • Venues’ experience with the approved premises regulations, including:
      • the costs and how they affect venues and couples;
      • problems that arise during the approval process, or during ceremonies; and
      • hosting religious weddings on approved premises;
    • Where couples want to get married;
    • Experiences of working with registrars, religious or belief celebrants, or independent celebrants;
    • Where civil weddings should be able to take place;
    • What rules or guidelines there should be about civil weddings venues; and
    • How a more permissive system might work.
    Main discussion points and opinions raised:
    • Everyone agreed that the dignity and sanctity of marriage needs to be kept in mind.
    • There were many frustrations regarding the limitations the law has on allowing outdoor ceremonies and also ceremonies in specific rooms: why is it that only 4 out of the 5 rooms in my venue can host ceremonies? It is not clear.”
    • It was agreed that there is a higher demand in today’s couple market for a wider variety of wedding ceremony location options. Wedding venues can satisfy this demand by the Law allowing more flexibility in terms of outdoor and building regulations for weddings.
    • It was posed that hosting Religious ceremonies/blessings is one of the highest heard requests from couples and that there is confusion as to why it is not possible to have such religious blessings held at approved venues.
    • Safety regulations both in terms of the security that venues provide and the implications of safety on couples and guests in outdoor / at home weddings has to be taken into consideration.
    • The local authorities’ ‘free reign’ on approved premises regulations and on costs are seemingly subjective and can be restrictive for smaller venues. More clarity needed on the reasons why different authorities have such differing costs and regulations.
    • Registrar restrictions on conducting ceremonies based on ceremony timings, the weather and location impacts couples preferences and venue flexibility massively. Standardisation and clarity is necessary.
    • There were mixed opinions on who should be able to conduct a legal ceremony. Many agreed that celebrants should have legal rights however there are concerns regarding friends or family of couples.
    • It was also noted that no one in the room has ever seen or experienced a disruption during a wedding yet, if public access is granted to wedding ceremonies this could become more of an issue.
    What’s next?

    A public consultation will take place in Spring 2020. This is the industry’s opportunity to have their say on the proposed changes. Based on this consultation, the Law Commission will make their detailed recommendation to the Government, with any legal changes being implemented in 2021.

    Bridebook will be continuing to work with the Law Commission and I will continue to share any updates I receive with our Venue Community. If you have any further thoughts or feedback please do not hesitate to get in touch.