The Government’s latest set of Covid-19 restrictions appear to have, presumably accidentally, made attending a wedding, including your own wedding, illegal.
The new regulation, SI 171, lists “wedding receptions” as being allowed, but it appears the Government failed to realise that the wedding ceremony, or service, and the wedding reception are actually two entirely separate and distinct events. The ceremony, or service, is when you get married, in a church or elsewhere, whilst the reception is the party held after the marriage ceremony, or service, has been completed.
The regulation, under section 10A, says that it is a criminal offence for a person to attend a “specified event…other than in accordance with paragraph (2).” A specified event is defined as any event that is not a “wedding reception”, a “sporting event”, a “training event”, or a funeral.
Paragraph 10A (2) lays out the reasons a person can legally attend events other than those mentioned above, but none of the provisions laid out within 10A (2) actually relate to weddings or religious services more generally. That is perhaps unsurprising given that the entire purpose of SI 171 appears to be making attending a religious ceremony, even an outdoor one, a criminal offence.
SI 171 amends SI 168, which lays out the Covid-19 restrictions that are to be in place between the 19th of April and the 4th of May. SI 168 had already made it an offence to organise a “relevant event”, which it defined as “an event held, or to be held , for social, recreational, exercise, cultural, entertainment or community reasons” and which was not “an event to be held in a dwelling”, a “wedding reception”, a “sporting event”, or a “training event.” As this definition did not include events held for religious reasons it would not have impacted upon religious wedding ceremonies. The definition used by SI 171, of a “specified event” simply makes all events, bar those specifically excluded, illegal.
SI 168 itself allows wedding receptions and contains a provision allowing wedding services to be conducted, 4(3)(0)(iii), but that allowance only applies to “a minister of religion or priest (or any equivalent thereof in any religion).”
The exemptions for priests outlined in SI 171 differ from those in SI 168; the exemptions contained within SI 171 do not include conducting a wedding service, although they do list acceptable reasons for priests to attend events. As such 4(3)(0)(iii) of Si 168 explicitly allows a priest to travel to conduct wedding services, whilst 10A of SI 171 makes it a crime for a priest to leave his house to conduct wedding services.
Professor Oran Doyle, Director of the Covid-19 Law and Human Rights Observatory in Trinity, has described the terminology used regarding weddings as “quite confused” and said that it is “unclear” if terms used were “to be viewed as a composite category, or whether different restrictions apply to weddings as distinct from wedding receptions.”
Given that SI 168 specifically refers to “wedding services” it would appear fair to say that Government has not previously treated “wedding services” and “wedding receptions” as forming a composite category. Given this, whatever the Government’s intent when bringing into force SI 171 it would appear, on the face of it, that the regulation has made attending a wedding, including your own, a criminal offence.
Professor Doyle has more generally described the Government’s approach to the enactment and enforcement of Covid-19 restrictions as “a damning indictment of the Government’s willingness to lead citizens through the pandemic in a way that respects citizens’ autonomy and capacity for reasoned choice.” He added that the Government’s behaviour suggests “a preference” for “vaguely articulating a desired standard of behaviour and then tricking citizens into compliance through calculated ambiguity about the dividing line between legal obligations and public health advice.”