Law on missing people to be changed
6 July 2012
The Ministry of Justice has announced its support for changes to the law regarding missing persons, allowing them to be officially presumed dead.
The change would allow a “Presumed Dead” certificate to be granted to an individual who has been missing for an extended period of time. Such a certificate be would be equal to a death certificate in terms of legal power, allowing the loved ones of the missing individual to access their accounts and take care of their affairs far more easily.
Presumption of death certificates are already legally recognised in Scotland under the Presumption of Death (Scotland) Act 1977, which allows the presumption of death to be declared when an individual is thought to have died, or if he or she “has not been known to be alive for a period of at least seven years”. Northern Ireland has similar legislation in place.
However, England and Wales currently have no such law, making it very difficult for the affairs of a Missing Person to be settled in their absence. The charity Missing Persons has fought for a change in the law as part of their Missing Rights campaign, and they welcomed the MoJ’s announcement in a statement, with chief executive Martin Houghton-Brown saying that they were “delighted” that the MoJ had given their support for the change.
He added, “This announcement shows significant intention to work towards a better future for families of missing people, representing huge step towards easing their heartache with clear legislative guidance.”
However, the Association of British Insurers warned that presumption of death legislation could lead to more fraud. "The combination of an increasingly difficult economic climate, combined with increasingly fluid travel habits, may result in 'going missing' becoming more common if access to insurance funds without a body becomes easier."
Erstwhile Manic Street Preachers guitarist Richey Edwards is a notably high-profile case of an individual going missing without being officially declared deceased. Edwards went missing in 1995, but it wasn’t until 2008 that a court order was granted to declare him presumed dead.