The Ministry of Justice has supported legislative changes on presumption of death to make it easier for grieving relatives of missing people to resolve complicated financial and legal issues.
Under the acting legislation in England and Wales, missing people are officially presumed dead if they have been missing for seven years. With the proposed changes, "presumed dead" certificates will be issued for missing persons, which will have the same legal power as the current death certificates. The legal document of "presumed death" could be obtained much earlier, thus shortening the time for sorting out the finances of people who have disappeared.
The Government is taking steps to revamp laws on missing people to ensure a more efficient and straightforward legal framework to help bereaved families cope with difficult financial and legal matters, as well as with the emotional stress they go through when someone close to them disappears without a trace.
The Ministry of Justice has backed the main recommendation of the Commons Justice Select Committee to introduce the new "presumed dead" certificates with the new bill authored by Conservative MP John Glen, to be discussed in Parliament this autumn. The Missing People charity has hailed the government support for the proposed changes. However, the Association of British Insurers voiced fears that the simplified rules for declaring missing people dead without a body, amidst the current economic climate and people's increasing mobility, might spur fraudulent practices. Easier access to the presumed dead person's accounts may tempt more people to breach the law, the Association warned.
About forty certificates of "presumed death" are expected to be issued in England and Wales each year once the bill becomes law, or the same number issued over the past ten years in Scotland, where such legislation already exists. Only one person who was presumed dead reappeared during that time.
According to the estimates of the UK Missing Persons Bureau, of the 200,000 people who are reported missing each year, fewer than 2,000 have not been found within twelve months.