Family Law Hub

Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019

An Act to make provision about the registration of marriage; to make provision for the extension of civil partnerships to couples not of the same sex; to make provision for a report on the registration of pregnancy loss; to make provision about the investigation of still-births; and for connected purposes.

  • The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Act 2019 received Royal Assent last week, paving the way for the first opposite-sex civil partnerships to take place in England and Wales by the end of the year, as well as ushering in further reforms relating to the family.

    The Act is a victory for equal civil partnership campaigners, who have worked tirelessly over a number of years to bring an end to what they saw as unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex. The Supreme Court unanimously found in their favour last June in R (on the application of Steinfeld and Keidan) v Secretary of State for the International Development [2018] UKSC 32. The legal win provided the final push to enact legislation that would allow heterosexual couples in England and Wales to enter into civil partnerships. Campaigners argued that there was a pressing need for the reform, given that the most recent statistics, from 2017, show that around 3.3 million couples cohabit, without any legal recognition of their relationship. Of these couples, around 60% have dependent children. Combined with research by Resolution which shows that around two-thirds of cohabiting couples wrongly believe that they are part of a 'common-law marriage', the need for an alterative to marriage, that would give such couples stability and legal protection, was clear.

    Section 2 of the Act requires the Secretary of State to amend the Civil Partnership Act 2004 by 31 December 2019, so that people of the opposite sex may enter into civil partnerships. The Secretary of State may additionally make provisions related to the extension of civil partnership, including the financial consequences of partnership and parenthood and parental responsibility of parties to a civil partnership. Further, the Secretary of State may make any provision that they consider appropriate in order to protect the ability to act in accordance with religious belief in relation to civil partnership (including the conversion of civil partnership into marriage and vice versa).

    Beyond equal civil partnerships, the Act brings in further reforms relevant to families. Section 1 of the Act enables the Secretary of State to make regulations to amend the Marriage Act 1949, with the intention of changing the way in which marriages are registered in England and Wales. The Act envisions a move from the current paper-based system of registration to a central electronic register. The Act also enables changes to be made to the register entry, and would facilitate inclusion of details that were not previously recorded, for example, the parties' mothers' details.

    Section 3 of the Act provides for a report on the registration of pregnancy loss. Like opposite sex civil partnerships, this issue has also been the focus of media attention over the past year. Under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953, parents whose babies are stillborn after the 24th week of pregnancy are able to register the baby's name, and receive a certificate of registration of stillbirth. These certificates, which are seen by many parents as a way of recognising and naming their child, are often greatly valued by parents, and can offer some comfort in the face of their loss. However, there is no such formal process of registration for any pregnancy which is lost before 24 weeks. This can compound bereaved expectant parents' distress, in particular when the miscarriage occurs very close to the 24-week cut off. Under Section 3 of the Act, the Secretary of State is required to prepare and publish a report on whether, and if so how, the law ought to be changed to require or permit the registration of these earlier pregnancy losses.

    Section 4 of the Act concerns coroners' investigations into stillbirths. Under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, coroners may only investigate the deaths of babies who show signs of life after being born, not stillborn children. As such, there is no investigation into the circumstances of why the baby was stillborn. Given the high number of stillbirths in the UK - one of the highest rates amongst developed nations - the Maternity Safety Strategy, launched in 2017, included a commitment that the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch would investigate every instance of stillbirth. There remains a question of whether coroners should have a role to play in investigating stillbirths. Accordingly, Section 4 of the Act requires the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a report on whether, and if so how, the law ought to be changed to enable or require coroners to investigate still-births. After the publication of such a report, the Lord Chancellor may amend the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 to enable or require coroners to conduct investigations into still-births, specify the circumstances in which those investigations are to take place, and make provision equivalent or similar to provisions relating to investigations into deaths.

    The Act can be read in full here. 

Published: 02/04/2019


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