8 The registration of marriages in England and Wales is principally governed by the Marriage Act 1949 and regulations made under it (the Registration of Marriages Regulations 2015 and Marriage (Authorised Persons) Regulations 1952). The Marriage (Registrar General’s Licence) Act 1970 provides an alternative procedure for marriages involving a person who is seriously ill and not expected to recover, and imports the registration provisions from the 1949 Act.
9 Section 1 of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 provides that a civil partnership is a relationship between two people of the same sex when they register as civil partners of each other.
10 Under section 3(1)(a) of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, two people are not eligible to register as civil partners of each other if they are not of the same sex. Equivalent restrictions apply to eligibility for registration in Scotland and Northern Ireland under s.86 and s.138 of the Act.
11 The Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 ("the 1953 Act"), together with regulations made under that Act, set the legal framework for the registration of births. Section 1 of the 1953 Act requires every child born in England and Wales to be registered. Section 11 makes special provision about registration of stillbirths. The definition of "stillborn child" is in section 41 of the 1953 Act and provides as follows:
12 "stillborn child" means a child which has issued forth from its mother after the twenty-fourth week of pregnancy and which did not at any time after being completely expelled from its mother breathe or show any other signs of life, and the expression "stillbirth" shall be construed accordingly.
13 Clause 4 provides a power to amend Part 1 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 ("CJA") to enable or require coroners to conduct investigations into stillbirths. Part 1 of the CJA is the current law governing coroners’ investigations into deaths. Section 1(1) of the CJA places a duty on a senior coroner who is made aware that the body of a deceased person is within that coroner’s area to conduct, as soon as practicable, an investigation into the person’s death if one of the triggers in section 1(2) for an investigation applies. The triggers in section 1(1) are that the coroner has reason to suspect that:
(a) the deceased died a violent or unnatural death;
(b) the cause of death is unknown; or
(c) the deceased died while in custody or otherwise in state detention.
14 Under section 5(1) of the CJA the purpose of a coroner’s investigation is to determine:
(a) who the deceased was;
(b) how, when and where the deceased came by his or her death; and
(c) the particulars (if any) required by the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 to be registered concerning the death.
15 Under section 5(2) of the CJA, where necessary in order to avoid a breach of any Convention rights (within the meaning of the Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42)), the purpose in paragraph (b) above is to be read as including the purpose of ascertaining in what circumstances the deceased came by his or her death.
16 An inquest must be held as part of all investigations, subject to section 4(3)(a) of the CJA. Section 4(3)(a) provides that a coroner may discontinue an investigation without holding an inquest if the cause of death is revealed by a post-mortem examination and the death was not violent, unnatural or in custody or otherwise in state detention. Section 10 of the CJA sets out the determinations and findings to be made at the inquest and they cover the same matters as the purposes of the investigation under section 5 of that Act.
17 England and Wales are divided into coroner areas. Coroner areas are dealt with in Schedule 2 to the CJA. Each coroner area consists of the area of a local authority or the combined area of two or more local authorities. Paragraph 3 of Schedule 2 sets out the relevant authority for each coroner area. If the area consists of the one local authority area then that authority is the relevant authority. If the coroner area consists of two or more local authority areas then the relevant authority is the one they jointly nominate or, if they cannot agree, the authority as determined by the Lord Chancellor.
18 Each coroner area has a senior coroner appointed by the relevant authority in accordance with Schedule 3 to the CJA. A senior coroner is assisted by assistant coroners and sometimes by an area coroner, also appointed in accordance with Schedule 3. The terms of office of senior coroners, area coroners and assistant coroners are also provided for in Schedule 3. The Chief Coroner is a new office created by the CJA. The Chief Coroner is appointed under Schedule 8 to the CJA.
19 Part 1 of the CJA contains detailed provisions on the powers of coroners. Under section 14 a coroner may request a suitable practitioner to make a post-mortem examination of a body. This may be to further the coroner’s investigation or to decide whether there is a duty to conduct a coroner’s investigation. Under section 15 the coroner has the power to remove a body to a suitable place. Schedule 5 provides further powers including powers relating to the production of evidence, powers of entry, search and seizure and exhumation of a body for examination. Under paragraph 7 of Schedule 5 the coroner may make a report of action to prevent other deaths to an appropriate person. Schedule 6 makes provisions about offences in relation to coroner investigations, including offences relating to jurors and juries and offences relating to witnesses and evidence.
20 There is further detail on coroners’ powers in the Coroners (Investigations) Regulations 2013 (SI 2013/1629) (made under section 43 of the CJA). There are also the Coroners (Inquests) Rules 2013 (SI 2013/1616) (made under section 45 of the CJA).