Well it really does depend on several things.
Who are the regulators?
What are they regulating or accrediting?
What powers should they have and what sanctions can or should they impose.
When I first qualified from law school and went to work for a criminal solicitor in Rochdale I was told to forget most of what I had been told by my tutors and real learning was done on the job – just like driving a car, once you have passed your test that’s when you learn to drive. My old principal solicitor (still doing the job) said perhaps a little tongue in cheek if you can’t do the job teach and this is my first concern with accrediting or regulating celebrants – Who are the regulators – where do they come from – who says they know what they are doing.
The first thing needed is a code for celebrants before any regulation or accreditation can be meaningful. Without a code no celebrant would know what they were being regulated or accredited for. There must be a level celebrants achieve before they can practice so the public can have faith and confidence in the role of the celebrant for it to be universally accepted and more widely recognised. A code or standard which every celebrant has achieved. The problem at present is anyone can set up a web site and say they are a celebrant capable and willing to officiate at the most important day in some people’s lives. Well in my opinion this is just plain wrong and leads to a whole host of horror stories.
This is why I would advocate before celebrants can even advertise or begin to operate they must have formal training from a recognised training establishment to ensure at least a minimum standard and a base from which the public can choose their own celebrant. At this point the identity and acceptability of celebrancy would grow in the public’s confidence.
Once celebrants have trained to an accepted level or code then in my opinion, they can operate. But then there must be some regulation to ensure standards are always maintained. The problem is where my first questions starts. Who are the regulators?
For me the regulators simply cannot be the providers of the celebrancy training. They must be independent of the trainers. The public must be able to see an independent body separate from course or training providers doing the regulation otherwise confidence in the system fails. You can’t have a system where the regulators say if you did what we told you in training then you are ok. – regulation itself must me capable of independent scrutiny.
So, the regulators must be independent – but who then can do it. An independent body needs to be created with approved and authorised powers to regulate and pass sanctions. Once the code for celebrants is created the independent body can be set up to regulate the code. But here again I find a problem because once an independent body is created to regulate something, to justify its own very existence it must find fault with something otherwise the body itself could appear to be meaningless. This is where I have concerns- it leads to fear and mis trust by celebrants of their own regulatory body fearful of overzealous sanctions and could in part be mis used by some members of the public making unjustified complaints simply as leverage to put pressure on celebrants to pay back hard worked for fees.
To have confidence in any regulatory body the people who are being regulated need to have confidence in the body and the public confidence to use it.
What Does Being Regulated Or Accredited Mean?
So, this brings me to my second question. What is being regulated or accredited. As we all know celebrants carry out a whole variety of services or celebrations – wedding celebrations, civils partnerships, naming ceremonies and funerals to list but a few. But these are the few that I think need regulating so the role of the celebrant can grow and gain more public awareness. All the areas I have listed involve great change for the people involved both emotional and legal. This is why I think celebrants need to be regulated. Where people’s lives are changed legally the process by which this happens needs to be approved authorised and carried out by someone who has demonstrated an understanding of those momentous changes. They can be sanctioned if not carried out in an approved and authorised way.
To have the authority to legally marry people comes with responsibility, to make sure funerals are done lawfully and with dignity carries responsibility and must be done quite simply by an approved person or body of people.
So yes, I approve regulation and accreditation. We can’t have any unlicensed unregulated people marrying others willy nilly and without sanction if done unlawfully. The public would have no confidence in celebrants if numbers of sham marriages rose dramatically carried out by unlicensed people under the celebrant’s banner. Marriage changes things dramatically for people tax, inheritance, next of kin decision etc and these changes should only be carried out by a regulated profession.
But for me the regulation must be limited to areas of celebrants work where legal changes are involved and I make no apology for saying this. The regulation must limited to this area otherwise it can be abused. I do not want to see a regulated profession having to deal with a host of rules that have to be abided by just to satisfy a regulator. The whole area of the unique, individual, personalised ceremonies goes out of the window as celebrants must stick to a formulaic ceremony as set out by regulators. This is why people don’t want the limits of the council registrar service. Regulate in areas where regulation is appropriate but don’t take away individuality. The marketplace itself will take care of that – good celebrants survive by creating good ceremonies tailored and delivered to what clients want – reputations spread by good reviews and word of mouth not by sticking to ceremonies that just tick the regulators box.
So, having said the regulators need to be independent and regulate only in areas where legal changes are involved.
Finally, the third question what powers or sanctions regulators should be able to impose.
Difficult to answer because letting some people have too much power is dangerous. Also, because I advocate only having regulation where important and significant legal changes are made the sanctions need to be severe but only imposed where necessary. As I said all celebrants must initially have recognised training before they can operate so there would be a register of all approved celebrants. Removal form the national register would be the most significant and important sanction.
This would in fact be the only sanction I would have. If you are not on the register you can’t work as a celebrant- so if you have had training and can’t work within the rules why would the celebrant world want you. If you demonstrate you are carrying out unlawful ceremonies, why do we want you giving the rest of us a bad name.
Therefore, the regulators need to be strong robust and vigilant in any decisions they make about any such removal, but they must me fair. Therefore, I make the point only for regulation in such legally important areas and with such a massive sanction. I don’t want to see regulators making decisions about how celebrants conduct their own style of ceremonies – market forces will decide if you have the right style for your market so keep the regulation for areas where it’s appropriate. Don’t let regulation take the uniqueness of celebrant led ceremonies away and let it become an area whereby complaining the public can drive down fees. I would not allow any regulation to have the power to make celebrants return some or part of the fee if a client complained. There are other avenues of redress for customers to seek compensation if they are not happy with the service. Giving a regulator power to decide whether your ceremony was good, delivered well and professionally is not what regulation is about- but yes if you carry out unlawful ceremonies you should expect to be struck off and sanctioned.
So three question three simple answers – regulators must me independent regulating only legally impacting ceremonies with one sanction – strike off and if you cant stick to the rules -tough.