Explanatory Notes

Registration of deaths and still-births etc

37 It is important to ensure that the administrative processes relating to the registration of births, deaths and still-births can operate effectively during the covid-19 outbreak as systems may be put under additional pressure and people may not be able to attend Registrars’ offices in person.

38 In England and Wales, the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 places a responsibility on the deceased’s doctor to provide a medical certificate giving, to the best of the doctor’s knowledge and belief the cause of death. This medical certificate is given to the registrar and used to record the cause of death in the death registration. If the doctor is not able to sign the medical certificate, for whatever reason, the death has to be referred to the coroner for investigation. The Bill will simplify this and provide more flexibility in an emergency situation by enabling a doctor who may not have seen the deceased to certify the cause of death without the death being referred to the coroner.

39 Current civil registration legislation also requires a person, normally a family member, to attend the register office to register the death. The Bill will allow a person to register without attending the register office and will also extend the list of those people who can give the relevant information to the registrar to register the death to funeral directors.

40 These provisions aim to provide flexibility in respect of health provisions during a pandemic, and mitigate the spread of infection. Provisions will also be made for the necessary documentation relating to death registration to be transmitted by alternative methods, including electronically.

41 There is a legislative framework across the four nations which sets out when coroners need to be notified of a death and what medical certificates are required before a cremation to take place.  This Bill enables the streamlining of some of those processes by temporarily modifying much of existing legislation.

42 The registration of births, deaths and still-births in England and Wales is governed primarily by the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 (the "1953 Act"), the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1926 (the "1926 Act"), the Registration of Births and Deaths Regulations 1987 (the "1987 Regulations") and the Registration of Births and Deaths (Welsh Language) Regulations 1987 (the "1987 Welsh Regulations").  The Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages (Scotland) Act 1965 is the main legislation governing the registration of births and deaths in Scotland.  The registration of deaths and still-births in Northern Ireland is governed by the Births and Deaths Registration (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 (the "1976 Order") and the Civil Registration Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012 (the 2012 Regulations). 

43 The Bill will make similar changes to the relevant legislation relating to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to streamline processes.

44 The Cremation (England and Wales) Regulations 2008 sets out the conditions that must be met before the body of a deceased person may be cremated.  The Bill would allow cremations to take place without the need for additional medical practitioner oversight, reducing the burden on healthcare professionals allowing them to be available to support with other duties. It will also reduce the likelihood of delays to allowing families to be able to make cremation arrangements for the deceased.

45 In Scotland, a review of death certificates is established under the Certification of Death (Scotland) Act 2011.  The review system requires that a random selection of death certificates is independently audited by a team of medical reviewers. Where a certificate is being reviewed the death cannot be registered and so funerals cannot proceed until the review has been completed.  The Bill will enable Scottish Ministers to suspend this system if, in consultation with the review service, this is considered appropriate to free up medical personnel and expedite the disposal of bodies.

46 The Burial and Cremation (Scotland) Act 2016 places duties place on cremation authorities, funeral directors and local authorities to take steps to trace and contact relatives of deceased persons to make arrangements for the collection or disposal of ashes.  The Bill will suspend these duties and the relevant bodies will be under a duty to retain the ashes.  Once the provisions are re-instated the original duties to ascertain the wishes of the family will also be re-instated in relation to any retained ashes.

47 The Cremation (Belfast) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1961 set out the conditions that must be met before the body of a deceased person may be cremated. The regulations require both a medical certificate giving the cause of death which must be given by a registered medical practitioner and a confirmatory medical certificate which must be given by a second registered medical practitioner, independent of the first, before a cremation may take place. The Bill modifies those Regulations to streamline this process and to remove the requirement for a confirmatory medical certificate.


Prepared 18th March 2020