The Regulations that will apply in Wales once the firebreak lockdown comes to an end on 9th November have now been published.
Guidance had been published earlier this week which I commented on in a previous blog post. There’s nothing particularly surprising in the Regulations in relation to worship, funerals and marriages. They largely revert to the situation before the firebreak.
Guidance on marriage has also been updated which suggests that different rules applies to non-qualifying ceremonies.
Under Regulation 6(6), the following are reasonable excuses to the prohibition on gatherings of more than 4 provides that participating in the gathering ‘is for a purpose that is reasonably necessary and there is no reasonably practicable alternative’:
(c) attending a solemnisation of a marriage or formation of a civil partnership (i) as a party to the marriage or civil partnership,(ii) if invited to attend, or (iii) as the carer of the person attending
(d) attending a funeral—(i) as a person responsible for arranging the funeral,ii) if invited by a person responsible for arranging the funeral, or(iii) as the carer of the person attending
(e) participating in a gathering of no more than 15 people, not including persons under the age of 11, at regulated premises to—(i) celebrate a solemnisation of a marriage or formation of a civil partnership that takes place on or after 22 August 2020;(ii) celebrate the life of a deceased person whose funeral is held on or after 22 August 2020;
(f) attending a place of worship;
The situation is therefore as stated in the guidance. The maximum number that can attend worship, funerals or marriages are determined by how many people can be present socially distanced at the venue. For events celebrating marriages and the life of the deceased (such as receptions and wakes), the number is capped at 15 and must be at a regulated place (not a private dwelling).
The Regulations leave unanswered the question of which exception applies to ceremonies conducted outside the Marriage Act – such as those by humanists and independent celebrants and unregistered religious marriages.
The guidance on marriage was updated on 7th November to provide the answer to this. Non-qualifying ceremonies are not covered by the wedding exception but are protected as organised indoor events:
‘This provision relates to ceremonies which form a marriage or formation of a civil partnership ceremony recognised under marriage law. Other ceremonies such as those organised by non-religious belief groups, with a tradition of forming marriages, can take place on the basis of being an organised indoor event which has a cap of 15 people, not including children under 11 years of age. These ceremonies can take place in indoor public spaces but this does not include private homes or their gardens.’
This means that a cap of 15 applies to marriage ceremonies by humanists but a cap dictated by venue capacity applies to marriages which comply with the Marriage Act 1949.
Regulation 7 provides a prohibition for organising an event indoors of more than 15 people and outdoors of more than 30. This means that non-qualifying ceremonies outdoors could have 30 people attending. Regulation 7 states that ‘a religious service’ is not to be treated as an event.
This means that the 15/30 limit does not apply to religious marriage ceremonies that are not for the solemnisation of marriage. These fall under the religious worship exception.
This would have the same effect as allowing them under the marriage exception: the maximum number of attendees would be determined by how many people can be present socially distanced at the venue. However, this exception would only apply to religious weddings at a place of worship. Religious services elsewhere would not be protected – this effectively provides a ban on communal weddings in the home because as the marriage guidance states a wide definition of place of worship is to be taken:
‘the term includes a confined or enclosed space, which is used for religious ceremonies, collective prayer and worship, belief or similar gatherings, such as a church, gurdwara, mosque, temple, synagogue, prayer, meeting or related hall’.
Does the phrase ‘belief or similar gatherings’ suggest that humanist ceremonies could also rely on the worship exception? The new guidance on marriage contradicts the guidance on opening places of worship – which was updated on 9th November and which clearly suggests that references to religious worship could include humanist ceremonies:
‘The term “place of worship” is not defined in the Regulations. For the purposes of this guidance, the term includes a confined or enclosed space, within buildings or outdoors, which is used for religious or belief ceremonies, collective prayer and worship or similar gatherings, such as a church, gurdwara, mosque, temple, synagogue, prayer rooms, meeting houses, vestries and halls where worship may be carried out. This can include buildings or rooms which are not exclusively used as a place of worship. For example, community centres, halls or venues hired by a religious or belief body for the purpose.’
However, the guidance then says: ‘Worship includes gatherings for religious and belief ceremonies including funerals, the solemnisation of marriages, and the formation of civil partnerships, baptisms’. This could mean that marriage ceremonies that are not for the solemnisation of marriage cannot rely on the worship exception. But the word ‘includes’ is important here.
This guidance also states that where religious worship is outdoors then the cap of 30 applies. It is unclear what the legal authority for this is given that religious services are not events for the purpose of Regulation 7. It also states that:
‘Worship or belief gatherings outdoors can include private or led prayers, devotions or meditations … Life event ceremonies or rituals, with a religious or belief content, such as Humanist weddings, blessing ceremonies, Bar or Bat mitzvah are also included’.
It is unclear whether this means that humanist weddings are included under the religious worship exception or whether they are events that can occur outside.
The fact that they would not be ‘religious services’ suggests that they would not be exempt from the general rules on events. This would suggest that the cap of 15 indoors seems to apply to non-qualifying marriages that are non-religious.
This is supported that the argument that non-qualifying ceremonies could be covered by the reception / celebration exception Regulation 6(6)(e) provided that they take place outside the home. Regulation 6(6)(e) provides the exception for receptions but it also seems that ceremonies outside the Marriage Act would come under this exception. The word ‘celebrate’ suggests this.
But this would be limited to a maximum of 15 people anyway. And the guidance on marriage is adamant that activities could not be moved from the celebration exception to the wedding exception so to benefit from the rule on attendance:
‘It is very important that those who wish to marry recognise the distinction in law and different treatment between a legal ceremony and other wedding celebrations that the Covid regulations make. It is not appropriate to attempt to shift activities they may wish to undertake from the celebration to the ceremony to make use of the greater potential capacity. Legal wedding ceremonies have a set of established boundaries, these are not changed by the Covid regulations and should be maintained.’
The position, therefore, seems to be as follows:
– Marriages under the Marriage Act 1949: maximum number dictated by venue capacity (marriage exception applies)
– Religious marriages not under the Marriage Act dictated by venue capacity (worship exception applies) but limited to 30 if outdoors (according to guidance)
– Non religious marriages not under the Marriage Act 1949 limited to 15 people indoors or 30 people indoors (since not exempt from events rule and reception / celebration exception applies).