Reproduction of birth, death and marriage certificates

HMSO’s latest views on Crown Copyright will mean changes to the way that these certificates are
dealt with by all financial institutions
(taken from Isssue No 13 –  October 2000)

HMSO have recently issued some further comments on the interpretation of their Guidance Note No7 of 27th October 1999.

Guidance Note No7
This circular re-emphasised the Crown copyright that exists in BDMCs and the prohibition against copying certificates without licence from HMSO’s Crown Copyright Unit. It was stressed that copying in this context included photocopying, scanning, filming and placing material on the internet.

Government policy is not to authorise copying of BDMCs except

[a] by government departments and local government for the purposes of public administration

[b] within the context of judicial proceedings

[c] within works of genealogical research undertaken by or on behalf of the family concerned where the work will only receive limited circulation (and specifically will not be placed on the internet)

[d] where it is subject to prior formal written consent from HMSO for use of copies within biographies, academic, educational or historic works outside of [c] above.

Conspicuous by its absence from these exceptions is the practice that has grown in recent years of solicitors and financial institutions photocopying and `certifying` their own copies as true copies. Unsurprisingly this practice has been the subject of further correspondence with HMSO, particularly concerning solicitors endorsing photocopies for general use.

Ministerial consideration of the issue
I am now advised that the issue has been considered at ministerial level and that the prohibition against copying is confirmed. In a letter of 13th October 2000 from the General Register Office the following comments are made

`…….The government will not authorise the copying of certificates because of the potential there is for photocopy documents to assist in the perpetration of fraud. Photocopies are extremely easy to forge and may not show alterations that have been made to the certificate itself. Certificates have inherent security features such as watermarks and fugitive inks to guard against forgery and alteration but these are circumvented by photocopying. Even if an endorsement of the photocopy provided a safeguard, there would be little to prevent the forging of the endorsement. Authorising solicitors to endorse and use photocopies of certificates as evidence of a birth, death or marriage would condone and encourage the use of photocopy documents, increase their acceptability and be seen as government approval of the practice. Providing evidence of death is the function of the death certificate and this would not be satisfactorily achieved by a photocopy

……Taking all the factors into account, the Minister concluded that it would be inappropriate to allow solicitors to photocopy death certificates for endorsement and use as evidence of death. This applies to birth, death and marriage certificates issued in England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own Registrars General, whose offices have indicated that they support the views expressed in this letter…….`

Evidence of what is exhibited
In separate correspondence with HMSO, the question has been raised of copying BDMCs for record purposes, e.g. a bank would want to keep a record of what was actually exhibited to it when death was registered. HMSO have confirmed that in their view this is acceptable. HMSO further accept that when an institution retains photocopies of registrars’ certificate as proof of what was exhibited to them, that these photocopies may been seen and acted on by other parts of the same organisation. Obviously copies taken in this way cannot be exhibited outside of the organisation that made and retained them.

Practical implications
Given that the habit of copying and certifying registrars’ certificates has become quite widespread among solicitors and financial institutions HMSO’s policy will cause some difficulties. This restatement of their policy should lead all of us to review not only what we accept as proof of birth, death and marriage, but also what we may be tempted to send to other companies. The implications of this probably affect all of our member companies.

There is also a public relations issue for us to manage in that many people will no doubt be in ignorance of this issue or expect us to continue as before. Clear and consistent policies are necessary together with diplomacy in the way that the policies are explained.

Further details
If anyone needs copies of the Guidance note or the General Register Office letter they can be obtained from

Margaret Ferre, Copyright Manager at
Her Majesty’s Stationery Office
St Clements House
2-16 Colegate
Norwich NR3 1BQ

Fax 01603-723000
e-mail mferre@cabinet-office.x.gsi.gov.uk