How Not to Deal with Unregistered Religious Marriages

On the day that the Law Commission published a detailed and nuanced final report on weddings law (on which more soon), the latest version of Baroness Cox’s inappropriate, ineffective and inflammatory Private Members Bill received its first reading in the House of Lords:

Like earlier versions of this Bill, it would amend the Marriage Act to make it an offence to purport to solemnise an unregistered marriage. The Bill would add one new section to the Marriage Act 1949.

My comments about the earlier versions of this Bill equally apply to this one. Since Baroness Cox has simply brought her Bill out of the archive, I thought I’d do the same. Here is what I previously said about the Bill in a blog post for Family Law:

This clause would be ineffective. The mischief that this provision would solve is the situation where people are deliberately claiming to conduct legal marriages where these marriages are not lawfully registered. There is no suggestion that this is the issue that needs to be solved. The issue is rather that ceremonies are taking place that are outside the scope of the Act entirely; not that ceremonies are claiming or giving the impression that they are in the scope of the Act. It is also debateable whether further legislation would be needed if that was the problem. Section 75 of the Marriage Act 1949 already provides a number of offences where marriages are solemnised but the Act is not complied with and section 76 provides offences relating to the registration of marriages.

It misses the point. The concern with unregistered religious marriages is the lack of rights and the lack of awareness of this. The Review is correct to emphasize the importance of education on remedying this. However, the proposal of a criminal offence will do little, if anything, to help and is likely to hinder. If legal change is required then it needs to be wholesale rather than piecemeal. General reform to the law on intimate personal relationships through revision of the law on formalities or cohabitation rights would mitigate the issues raised by unregistered religious marriages.

‘Criminalising imams will not solve the problem of unregistered marriages’ (2019)

You can read the whole piece at:

In short, this is not a matter that can be solved by criminal law. Pity that Parliamentary time will be spent on this again rather than on discussing the new Law Commission Report. Their proposals would mitigate the problem of unregistered religious marriages as a byproduct of reforming the law on how people get married. And I will have more to say about their final report soon.

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