Thursday, 13 August 2009

British Government ignores BMD access petition?

In Scotland, we are currently the only British nation that is allowed online access to our BMD records, in the form of digitised and indexed images of births to 1908, marriages to 1933, and deaths to 1958, via the ScotlandsPeople Centre. A recent online petition to the British Government to make BMD records for England and Wales similarly available online from 1837 to 1908 (their statutory registration commenced 18 years before us) has now received a response at the 10 Downing Street website.

Thank you for your e-petition which calls on the Government to provide full and open access to the registers of birth, marriage and death between 1837 and 1908.

The Government understands that many family researchers want to have full and open access to the information in historic birth, death and marriage registers and accepts that the current legislation is overly restrictive with these records.

Under current legislation - the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 and the Marriage Act 1949 - access to the information in birth, death and marriage registers is only possible by means of a certified copy (certificate) of a particular entry, when that entry has been identified from the index and the statutory fee paid. There are other pieces of legislation which allow for the release of information in birth, death and marriage registers for specific purposes, e.g. statistical data, but there is no power to provide full and open public access.

The Government proposed in 2003 a wide-ranging set of reforms to the civil registration service in England and Wales. These proposals included an intention to digitise all the records with historic records being accessible to view on a database, possibly with a small charge, but without the need to purchase a certificate. It did not prove possible to introduce the necessary legislation by a Regulatory Reform Order as we had intended and there has not been a suitable opportunity to legislate since then. Nevertheless, we remain committed to modernising the way in which these records can be accessed and the Registrar General keeps this under active review.

In other words, this looks suspiciously like the metaphorical two fingers from the Government in action here!

The Northern Irish GRO in Belfast is planning a system along the ScotlandsPeople model which is hoped to go online in 2011 (see Northern Irish BMD certs to go online 2011?), but I don't see why English and Welsh genealogists, and indeed the general public, should be discriminated against on the same issue, as they have as much of a right to see their ancestral records as we have, and pay the same taxes we do. Many Scots will be similarly affected, having relatives and ancestors from south of the border.

(With thanks to T-J at the Your Family Tree magazine discussion forum).

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