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The Truth About Signing The Register and The Data Protection Act

Wedding photographers frequently encounter instructions from Registrars and the clergy to refrain from taking photographs during the official signing of the marriage register.  Photographers are usually given time after the signing to ‘mock up’ the signing and fake the photographs. The reason typically offered is Data Protection: the register holds private information (from previous marriages) and should not therefore be captured by the camera.  What puzzles many photographers and wedding couples is i) that the same reason is given even if a new page is being used and ii) some inconsistency: some Registrars (albeit in the minority) appear relaxed about the rule being ‘broken’. iii) The Register is a public document!

Signing of the register at a hotel civil ceremony. Image used to illustrate principles about the Data Protection Act.

The truth is that the Data Protection Act (DPA) does NOT apply to the Birth, Deaths and Marriage Register.  The DPA does indeed state that ‘appropriate technical and organisational measures shall be taken against unauthorised or unlawful processing of personal data and against accidental loss or destruction of, or damage to, personal data” (Principle 7); BUT the Marriage Register is already in the public domain and anyone can view the information contained in it anyway. So the DPA does not apply in this case (anyone is free to contact the Information Commissioner’s Office to have this confirmed).

So, as many photographers have suspected, we are getting misinformed advice during the end of wedding ceremonies.   In reality, the objective of Registrars in asking photographers to step back during the signing is because they do not want the couple being distracted. The Registrar IS entitled to ask you not to take photographs (even at civil ceremonies they are technically in charge of their own office); and even though it is wrong to cite the DPA, it is very important that photographers respect their decision.

Filed under: Advice
  • Gary Smith

    That is a very interesting article, Gary. I have never met a Registrar that has said I can take close ups during the signing. I have had one very helpful Registrar who helped set up the close up after the mockup book was put in place.

    I have found that the clergy are more relaxed towards any close ups to be taken during the signing.

    I can understand if the Registrar doesn’t want to have the couple distracted.

    Thanks for this post.

    Gary Smith

All images copyright Gary Roebuck AMPA ABIPP.