Death and birth records in the Virgin Islands would get an overhaul for the digital age if the House of Assembly passes proposed legislation now on its agenda.
Amid moves to modernise government systems across the board, the HOA is considering a bill that would replace the over-56-year-old Registration of Births and Deaths Ordinance (Cap. 276). The proposed law would computerise the registration and notification process and set up a team to facilitate the transition. The act also makes special provisions for the registration of stillbirths.
Premier Andrew Fahie presented the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 2021 for a first reading on March 4, and the draft law is now public after it was Gazetted on March 12.
These amendments have been pending for years. Then-Governor Boyd McCleary noted in his 2012 Speech from the Throne that the current act is “outdated” and would be amended to provide for the stillbirth registrations and to create the positions of deputy registrar general and assistant registrar general.
Under the newly Gazetted bill, staff serving in these two positions would assist the governor-appointed registrar general in maintaining the Civil Registry.
The Civil Registry and Passport Office currently features an online application for birth certificates on its website, but the new bill’s “objects and reasons” section promises to further modernise the registration process.
The bill states that the registrar must be notified of the particulars of any birth in the territory within 21 days, either by a health care facility officer; a nurse, midwife or other medical practitioner present when the baby is born; or otherwise any person there at the birth.
Within 30 days, a guardian must complete a birth registration form.
However, a guardian can obtain a temporary birth certificate in an emergency if the child needs medical care outside the territory.
According to the bill text, the name of the father of a child born out of wedlock won’t be entered in the register unless both parents request it in person, or the father submits sworn testimony.
Guardians may request a change of name after paying a $10 application fee and $15 registration fee, or the child may seek it after turning 18 years old.
The updated legislation also outlines how all deaths in the territory and their causes must be reported to the registrar.
The nearest relatives of the deceased must complete a death registration form within seven days, or otherwise must attend the Civil Registry personally to explain the delay.
The registrar must issue any necessary certificates within a year of receiving birth or death registration forms, and must submit a comprehensive list of registrations to the governor within four months of the end of the year.
Per the bill, the governor also has the power to make any regulations deemed necessary “for the better carrying out of the purposes of this act.”
Certain fines are prescribed in the bill as well.
Anyone who improperly registers a death is subject to a maximum $1,000 fine on summary conviction. A person faces the same penalty for burying, cremating, otherwise disposing of, or transporting out of the territory a body without the necessary permits.
A parent who fails to provide required birth information may have to pay a maximum $1,000 fine as well.
People face a maximum fine of $2,000 for wilfully destroying permits or registry entries; falsifying information; or giving a false certificate.
Anyone who wilfully refuses to give information to the registrar concerning a birth, stillbirth or death, or who doesn’t comply with requests from the registrar, also faces a maximum $2,000 fine.
Legislators are scheduled to debate the proposed Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 2021 at its second reading.