Now is not the right time to fundamentally reform marriage law, the Ministry of Justice has said, after sitting on a government-commissioned Law Commission report for nearly two years.
In December 2014 the government asked the commission to review the law governing how and where people can marry in England and Wales. The commission published a scoping paper a year later, which concluded that the current law is ‘outdated, uncertain and needlessly complex’.
However justice minister Dominic Raab told Professor Nick Hopkins, a law commissioner, that ‘now is not the right time to undertake further work on such fundamental reform’. Raab, in his letter dated in September, said the family justice system ‘is under significant pressure at present from a sustained increase in public and private law cases’, which the government is trying to alleviate.
'Accordingly, we need to focus on reforms in this area of the system in order to meet the unprecedented increases in demand. Any opportunities for primary legislation will need to support that aim,' he added.
'I realise that this decision may be disappointing, but I am not ruling out the option of further work in this area in a future programme of work, and I am happy to keep this under review.'
Responding to Raab's letter, Hopkins said this week that the pressure to change marriage law, or at least comprehensively review legislation, 'is unlikely to diminish'.
Hopkins highlighted high-profile campaigns by humanist groups, who have successfully challenged weddings legislation in Northern Ireland, and those concerned about religious-only marriage, which is being considered by the sharia law review, set up by Theresa May when she was home secretary.
He added: 'This is a complex area of the law with a need for wide consultation, so any law reform options would take time to formulate.
'Allowing the commission to undertake work would help to identify the issues and have solutions ready for implementation in the medium term, if government agreed at that stage that reform was warranted. Our work could be structured to give government options for reform, including more limited reform that could be implemented via the special parliamentary procedure for Law Commission bills.'