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Missing persons: Law reform needed to aid families of the missing

The Commons Justice Select Committee has stated that the law regarding the administration of affairs for someone 'missing presumed dead' should be reformed to help their families.

Describing the current legislative framework as a "crazy paving" of different provisions, the Committee announced that it believed a single certificate should be brought in to simplify procedures.

The report of the Committee comes after families of missing persons appealed to MPs to change the law. The group includes a woman whose husband disappeared after a night out in Manchester nine years ago.

Vicky Derrick said she had found it "extraordinarily difficult" to resolve the affairs of her husband since he disappeared in August 2003.

Speaking about the matter, the committee's chairman Sir Alan Beith said: "We do not agree with Government ministers who claim the system is working 'adequately'. The evidence we have heard from families faced with the problems of resolving these affairs is overwhelming."

"The law needs to be changed. The Government owes it to these families to look at this issue again very carefully before it responds to our report," he added.

He explained that in some cases missing people are being declared dead in order to dissolve the marriage to allow the other party to move on. This is despite the fact that the missing person is still considered alive in the eyes of mortgage lenders and other agencies.

The Committee has recommended that legislation be brought forward for England and Wales to the next parliamentary session. This would follow the Scottish Presumption of Death Act 1977. This would allow families to apply for a presumption of death order after seven years.

The Committee also recommended that the Government should introduce guardianship orders so that families can maintain the estate of the missing person during this time. This would allow them to cancel things like gym memberships, settle outstanding debts and provide maintenance payments for their children.

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