Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill

Explanatory Notes

Policy background

2 Since 1837, the marriage register entry in England and Wales (and consequently marriage certificates, which are a certified copy of the entry) has included details of the fathers of the spouses, but not their mothers. Although changes to the content of the register entry could be made by secondary legislation (as the particulars required to be registered are prescribed in regulations under section 55(1) of the Marriage Act 1949), any change would necessitate replacement of all 84,000 marriage register books currently in use.

3 The Civil Partnership Act 2004 was introduced to provide legal recognition to same-sex couples at a time when marriage was not available to them. Currently, only same-sex couples can form a civil partnership in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; opposite-sex couples have never been able to form a civil partnership in any of those territories.

4 Many of the care considerations for parents experiencing a stillbirth (when a baby is born after 24 weeks gestation) will be similar for those experiencing a late miscarriage.  Local policies, however, may affect the type and place of care offered or available depending on the gestation when baby loss occurs.

5 In particular, registration certificates are often greatly valued by parents as a way of recognising and naming their baby.  Currently, parents whose babies are stillborn after 24 weeks gestation can register the baby's name and receive a certificate of registration of stillbirth.  When a pregnancy ends before 24 weeks gestation however, there is no formal process for parents to legally register the loss.  Some expectant parents find this to be particularly distressing.   

6 Under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, coroners have a duty to investigate deaths in certain circumstances, such as where the death is violent or unnatural. Coroners can only investigate the deaths of babies who show signs of life after being born, not babies who die before or during labour. Coroners can commence an investigation to decide if a duty to conduct an investigation arises if there is any doubt as to whether a baby was stillborn but their investigation must end if they find it was a stillbirth. They will not investigate into the circumstances of why the baby was stillborn.

7 On 28 November 2017 the Secretary of State for Health announced a number of new measures as part of the relaunch of the Maternity Safety Strategy to reduce the current rate of stillbirths in England and to spread knowledge and learning in the system. This includes a commitment that from April 2018, every case of stillbirth, neonatal death, suspected brain injury or maternal death that is notified to the Royal College of Obstetrician and Gynaecologists ‘Each Baby Counts’ programme will be investigated independently by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB). This effectively removes responsibility for deciding whether and to what extent such cases should be investigated from the care provider and/or commissioner.  The investigations will have an explicit remit not just to get to the bottom of what happened in an individual instance, but to spread knowledge around the system and be learning focused, and will involve families from the outset. There is however a question of whether coroners should have a role to play in investigating stillbirths to contribute to learning and reducing the stillbirth rate.  Additionally, concerns have also been raised by parents that some babies who showed signs of life after birth were being classified as stillborn and hence were not being reported to the coroner.


Prepared 1st February 2018