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Commons Library analysis: Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill

Published Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill 2017-19 has its second reading on 2 February 2018. This Commons Library Briefing Paper provides information about the Bill and background material.

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This paper deals with the position in England and Wales unless otherwise stated.

The Bill

The Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill (the Bill) is a Private Member’s Bill introduced by Tim Loughton (Conservative), who came fifth in the ballot for Commons Private Members’ Bills for the 2017-19 Parliamentary session. 

The Bill was published on 31 January 2018 and is due to have its second reading on 2 February 2018. It has four substantive clauses dealing respectively with:

  • registration of marriages and civil partnerships;
  • reform of civil partnership;
  • report on registration of pregnancy loss; and
  • coroners’ investigations into stillbirths.

The Bill is due to have its second reading on 2 February 2018.

As well as this longer paper which covers the whole Bill, four separate papers are available for those who are only interested in specific aspects:

Explanatory Notes have been prepared by the Home Office with the consent of Tim Loughton.  They provide the following overview of the Bill:

"The Bill requires the Secretary of State to review the system of registering marriages and civil partnerships to ascertain the changes that would be needed to enable the inclusion of both parents in a register entry. It requires the Secretary of State to prepare a report to assess the changes that ought to be made to ensure equality of treatment with respect to the future ability of opposite-sex and same-sex couples to form a civil partnership, and confers power to effect those changes. It also requires the Secretary of State to prepare a report on whether the law ought to be changed to require or permit the registration of pregnancy losses. Finally, it requires the Secretary of State to prepare a report on whether the law ought to be changed to enable or require coroners to investigate stillbirths, and confers powers to make those changes."

Background

Mothers’ details on marriage certificates

In England and Wales, the law requires all marriages to be registered once they have taken place. The system for registering marriages is currently paper-based. The prescribed particulars to be registered for a marriage include details of the father but not the mother of the bride and groom.

There have been calls from both within and outside of Parliament for mothers’ details to be included in marriage registration.

The Government has confirmed its willingness to support a move from a paper based system to registration in an electronic register, and to facilitate inclusion of mothers’ details. The Government considers that this would create a more secure system for the maintenance of marriage records.

Two other Private Members Bills, in similar terms to one another, have been introduced in the current Parliamentary session. The Home Office has prepared Explanatory Notes for the Registration of Marriage (No.2) Bill 2017-19, which was presented to Parliament by Dame Caroline Spelman in November 2017. 

Civil partnership for opposite sex couples

In England, Wales and Scotland, same sex couples have the option to marry or to register a civil partnership if they wish to gain legal recognition for their relationship. In Northern Ireland, same sex couples may register a civil partnership but may not marry.  Across the UK, opposite sex couples may marry but they may not register a civil partnership.

In 2014, the Coalition Government consulted on the future of civil partnership in England and Wales. Among other things, the Government asked for views on opening up civil partnership to opposite sex couples.  In June 2014, the Coalition Government stated that, in responses to the consultation, there was no united call for reform and that it had decided not to do anything at that time.

Calls continue to be made for civil partnership to be made available to opposite sex couples. Supporters of this position argue that opposite sex couples, like same sex couples, should be able to choose whether to marry or to register a civil partnership.

In January 2016, an opposite sex couple lost their claim for judicial review of the ban on civil partnership for opposite sex couples. The couple lost their appeal to the Court of Appeal but have been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

In December 2017, the Government said that it was keeping the matter of civil partnerships under review and was assessing demand amongst both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The Government considered it was still too early to judge how the law should be changed and declined to comment further because of the ongoing legal action.

Registration of stillbirth

The birth and subsequent death of a baby who is born alive must be registered, whatever the length of the completed pregnancy.   When a baby is stillborn (born dead) after 24 weeks pregnancy, the stillbirth must be registered in the stillbirth register.  The process for registering a stillbirth combines features of both birth and death registration. 

There is no provision to allow the registration of stillbirths before the 24th week of pregnancy. The charity Sands (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death charity) provides forms of certificate that health care staff may use or adapt for a baby stillborn before 24 weeks pregnancy. 

On a number of occasions, the Government has indicated that it has no plans to change the definition of stillbirth, which is based on clinical evidence and the age of viability.

In January 2014, Tim Loughton introduced a Private Members’ Bill, intended to enable registration of a baby stillborn before the threshold of 24 weeks. The definition of stillbirth was to be based on the experience of giving birth.  The Bill did not progress any further.  Tim Loughton has also raised the issue of registration of stillbirth before 24 weeks of pregnancy in other Parliamentary debates, speaking of the arbitrary nature of the 24 week threshold. 

There have been a number of petitions calling for the law to be changed, to allow the registration of a stillbirth before the 24th week of pregnancy.

Investigation of stillbirth

All unexpected or avoidable deaths, including those of mothers or babies, which may have been the result of healthcare failings should currently be investigated as serious incidents, under NHS England and NHS Wales national frameworks. The Department of Health and the Welsh and Scottish Governments have also jointly commissioned a standard Perinatal Mortality Review Tool, to assist maternity and neonatal units in investigating all stillbirths and perinatal deaths.

At present coroners do not have power to investigate a stillbirth. There have been a number of calls for the law to be changed. 

Following a 2013 Court of Appeal decision In Northern Ireland, which has its own legislation, coroners there do have jurisdiction to carry out an inquest on a child that had been capable of being born alive.

On 28 November 2017, Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced the Government’s new strategy to improve safety in NHS maternity services. As part of this strategy, from April 2018, the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) will investigate every case of a stillbirth, neonatal death, suspected brain injury or maternal death notified to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) Every Baby Counts programme, amounting to around 1,000 incidents per year.

Jeremy Hunt also said that he would work with the Ministry of Justice “to look closely into enabling, for the first time, full-term stillbirths to be covered by coronial law, giving due consideration to the impact on the devolved Administration in Wales”.

 

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8217

Authors: Catherine Fairbairn; Alex Bate; Oliver Hawkins

Topics: Civil partnerships, Coroners, Health services, Marriage, Registration of births, deaths and marriages

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