Marriage Fees and the Church in Wales

by Philip Jones

According to its internet website (accessed 14th May 2012) the Church in Wales charges fees for publishing banns of marriage and for solemnising marriage in church.  However, the legal authority for these marriage fees in unclear.

The Welsh Church Act 1914 provides that ‘as from the date of Disestablishment [in 1920] … the ecclesiastical law of the Church in Wales shall cease to exist as law’ (s.3(1)). 

However, the later Welsh Church (Temporalities) Act 1919 introduced an important exception to this provision:

‘Nothing in this Act or in the Welsh Church Act 1914 shall affect … the law with respect to marriages in Wales’ (s.6).

If parishioners have the right at common law to the publication of their banns and solemnisation of their marriages in the parish church, how can the Church in Wales charge fees for performing these services?

The Church of England charges marriage fees under the authority of Fees Measures.  Church of England Measures have statutory authority, and so are capable of overriding or restricting common law rights.  However, Fees Measures only apply to England, not Wales.

Common law held that no fee could be charged for marriage, unless the Church could prove an ‘immemorial custom’ in the particular parish, i.e that a marriage fee was paid in that parish from before the time of legal memory.  Such a custom is very difficult to prove, and any customary fee would only be worth a few pence in the money values of today.  Common law also held that a customary fee could not be adjusted for inflation (Bryant v Foot 1867 Law Reports 2 Queen’s Bench 161).

Some 19th century Acts of Parliament provided for marriage fees to be charged in the ‘new parishes’ created at that time.  However, any 19th century fees, like customary fees, would only be worth a few pence today.

The Church in Wales also charges a fee for the grant of a marriage licence.  It is probably entitled to do this.  It is said that ‘a licensor stands on his own price’.  By definition, there is no right to a licence.

However, if marriage by banns is a legal right, it is difficult to see how the Church in Wales can have the legal right to charge fees for this, unless statutory authority is given.