ISLAMABAD  -   The Supreme Court has directed the union councils of the country to register Christian marriages in accordance with the law.

The top court has also directed National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) to issue computerised marriage certificates to Christians in accordance with the law. 

The top court has also directed Punjab’s Local Government and Community Development (LG&CD) to promulgate the necessary rules and make necessary amendments in the by-laws, notifications and letters to reflect the legal position outlined in the judgment.

These directions are issued through a 17 page judgment authored by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar in the matter regarding non-registration of Christian Marriages.

The case was initiated on the application submitted by the Dean of the Cathedral Church Lahore Shahid P. Meraj. 

The grievance propounded in the application was that of non-registration of Christian marriages with the Union Councils of the Province of Punjab and the NADRA.

In the judgment, the top court also explained the difference between solemnisation and registration of marriages. According to the judgment solemnisation of a marriage entails the performance of the ceremonial aspects of the marriage whereas registration is the completion of a marriage certificate and lodging or filing of it with the appropriate institution or authority.

The judgment stated that according to Christian Marriage Act 1872, individuals falling under Section 5(1) and (2) do not require a license from the Local Government to solemnise marriage, rather they must follow the rules, rites, ceremonies and customs of their respective churches. 

“Section 5(2) supra refers to any Clergymen of the Church of Scotland in particular, and the term “Church of Scotland” has been defined in Section 3 to mean “the Church of Scotland as by law established”, however Section 5(1) supra refers generally to any person who has received Episcopal ordination, who is to solemnise the marriage in accordance with the rules, rites, ceremonies and customs of the Church of which he is a minister, and “Church” has been defined in Section 3 supra as including “any chapel or other building generally used for public Christian worship”.” 

However, the top court stated that those individuals who fall in the categories defined in Section 5(3), (4) and (5) are to be licensed according to the provisions of the Act itself, i.e. Sections 6, 7, 8 and 9 in order to solemnise marriages.  

With respect to registration of marriages, it is stated that those solemnised by persons under Section 5(1), (2) and (3) are to be registered as per the procedure provided in Part IV of the Act which begins with Section 27.

It is further observed that the Act is clear in that individuals falling under Section 5(1) and (2) are not required to apply for a formal license from the HR&MA Department to solemnise marriages because under canon law, ordination itself confers an inherent power to solemnise marriages and this position is reflected in the Act, and it is only those individuals mentioned in Section 5(3), (4) and (5) who require a license under the Act to solemnize marriages.

“The HR&MA Department and/or the local government cannot refuse to recognise certain classes of individuals who solemnise Christian marriages as this is disregarding the law,” the judgment observed.

“Additionally, the local government statutes of the Provinces of Sindh, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan all contain similar provisions which empower the local government to register Christian marriages,” it added.

“It is an admitted fact that in the other Provinces, Union Councils have not raised any objection to registering Christian marriages in this regard and in light of the Article 25 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan providing that “[a]ll citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law”, it is discriminatory that Punjab, where around 80% of the total Christian population of Pakistan resides, should refuse to do so.”

The HR&MA Department is directed to introduce a procedure whereby they receive the names of all the persons who fall within the provisions of Section 5(1) and (2) of the Act and are duly authorised to solemnise marriages.

It is further observed that the said Department should prepare lists of such names based on the jurisdiction of the concerned local government and the lists should be forwarded to the concerned local government including Union Councils so that they are aware that such individuals are duly recognised as persons authorised to solemnise marriages according to the law and capable of registering such marriages with the local government without holding a formal license to that effect.

Thereafter, the local government shall, in accordance with law, report/pass on such information of a Christian marriage to NADRA which shall issue the requisite computerised marriage certificate.