Finally some justice for missing people's families

Justice Old Bailey

After years of campaigning a new law introduced today makes it easier for families of missing people to declare their loved ones dead

The law which comes into force today allows families of missing people to request a ‘Certificate of Presumed Death’ for missing family members. Up until now families were left unable to close bank accounts, claim life insurance or follow any of the ordinary proceedings following a loved one’s death because of a lack of death certificate. Without proof of death the old complex system added extreme financial and legal strain to families already coping with huge tragedy.

The ‘Certificate of Presumed Death’ can be requested by families if a loved one has been missing for more than seven years or if there is ‘good reason’ to believe that they are dead. The Missing Persons and Presumption of Death Act also means that families only need to attend court once to get the certificate and no longer have to navigate through the lengthy and complex legal proceedings which existed before. Families previously would have had to go through different channels to get appropriate documentation, for example to dissolve a marriage or claim life insurance; the new law resolves these difficulties by issuing just one document for the families to use as proof of death.

The charity ‘Missing People’ which campaigned for the change in law today welcomed the new system which they describe as ‘comprehensive and straightforward.’ The campaign was also figure headed by many families who had missing loved ones; Peter Lawrence whose daughter Claudia went missing in 2009 was one of the most central figures to the campaign.

Families were not only frustrated by the old complex system but by the inordinate delay in the change in law. A much better and more effective system was already in place in Northern Ireland and Scotland whilst the campaign in England and Wales ensued. Many questioned why the law was not changed in England and Wales sooner and why, even after the original act was passed in 2013, it has taken over 18 months for the system to come into implementation today. Charities and families see today’s law change as a step in the right direction but that so much more needs to be done to help affected families. The campaign now focuses on changing guardianship laws so that families can deal properly with finances and property in the more immediate aftermath of their loved ones disappearance.

After relentless campaigning added to the burden of families struggling through such a difficult time, today’s news has come as a welcome relief. The law now facilitates some ‘closure’ for families and allows them to properly deal with the death of a loved one, as well as receiving all of the support that they would have received had their family member been found. In such a difficult situation it is hard to see this as a true ‘victory’ but at least the law is now performing its true function- protecting those who so desperately need it.