Law Commission begins work on weddings reform

The Law Commission has begun reviewing the laws around how and where people can marry in England and Wales, having agreed the Terms of Reference for the project with the Government.

The Commission aims to propose options for a simple and fair system to give modern couples meaningful choice about their wedding ceremony. The project will:

  • consider where a wedding should be able to take place
  • consider how to remove unnecessary red tape which can hamper choice and increase the cost of wedding venues
  • aim to ensure that the law works for all couples and all faiths, including those who are not as well served by the current buildings-based system
  • seek to make the law more simple and certain, so that it is clear whether a couple’s marriage is legally valid

The remit for the project includes developing a scheme that would allow non-religious belief groups, such as humanists, and independent celebrants to celebrate weddings, enabling Government to widen the routes to legally binding ceremonies if it chooses to do so.

An infographic summarising the scope of our review is available here.

Law Commissioner Nick Hopkins said:

“A couple’s wedding day is one of the most important events in their lives. Our project aims to bring the 19th century law up to date and make it more flexible, giving couples greater choice so they can marry in a way that is meaningful to them.

“We look forward to continuing our work in this area.”

The project, first announced by Government in the 2018 Budget, follows on from the Law Commission’s 2015 Scoping Paper, in which we outlined a range of problems with the current law, which largely dates from 1836.

Principles and scope of the review

The Commission’s recommendations will be based on five principles:

  • Certainty and simplicity
  • Fairness and equality
  • Protecting the state’s interest
  • Respecting individuals’ wishes and beliefs
  • Removing any unnecessary regulation of venues which can hamper choice and increase the cost for couples.

The Law Commission will consider:

  • 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, which is a decision for Government.
  • 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.

The full Terms of Reference are available on the Commission’s website here.

Next steps

The Commission will now begin its work on the project and prepare questions and provisional proposals for reform for a public consultation. The detailed review including a final report is expected to last two years.

Notes for editors

Government’s separate work

Alongside the Law Commission project, the 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. The 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.

More details on the weddings project can be found here.