Wedding witnesses could be able to dial-in remotely under proposals for small ceremonies to resume

Harry Yorke

Wedding witnesses could soon be allowed to observe ceremonies using video conferencing technology under proposals being considered by the Government, The Telegraph can reveal.

In order to enable small weddings to resume this summer, ministers are considering changes to the law to allow witnesses to dial-in remotely rather than being physically present. 

While no decision has been finalised, it is hoped that “remote witnessing” could allow those unable to attend ceremonies, including those self-isolating with Covid-19, to still fulfil their role as a witness. 

The proposals also open up the possibility of close friends or relatives participating virtually from abroad, should they be unable to travel due to national lockdowns. 

At present, all weddings legally require two witnesses, the couple and wedding official to be present for the marriage to take place. 

Witnesses must also observe the ceremony and sign the marriage register, although it is hoped that a virtual witness would be able to do this using an electronic signature.

The proposals have been shared with senior figures in the Church of England, which is believed to be discussing how they could be implemented in churches across the country.  

On Wednesday a Government source confirmed that officials were drawing up options in order for small weddings to restart in the near future. 

However, they played down the prospects of the traditional wedding returning anytime soon, pointing out that social distancing measures were likely to mean that large gatherings were implausible for the foreseeable future.

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“I don’t think we’re suddenly going to be back to the days of the giant wedding, that’s not going to be happening for a while,” they added.

It comes two weeks after the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said he was giving “anxious consideration” to marriages, which have been unable to take place since the coronavirus lockdown was imposed on March 23.

Prior to the ban coming into place, the Church of England also advised that the number of people attending church weddings should be limited to the legal minimum of five to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. 

Although proposals are still being worked on, the Government has previously indicated that restarting small weddings is likely to be included in step two of its roadmap out of lockdown, due to commence from June 1.

According to documents published earlier this month, officials are now “examining how to enable people to gather in slightly larger groups to better facilitate small weddings.” 

However, church weddings are currently not expected to resume until July 4 under the recovery strategy, with places of worship still required to observe social distancing measures upon reopening. 

A Church of England spokesman said: "We are actively exploring a number of ideas with the Government to help make it possible for couples to marry while observing the physical distancing requirements necessary to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“This is just one of a number of areas where the Church of England has been working with the Government, alongside other faith leaders, to enable a safe phased reopening of churches and other places of worship in step with Government advice."