Missing persons law reforms 'would help families'

Wed, Jan 30, 2013, 00:00

Proposed legislation to deal with the law around missing persons would help families deal with the financial problems that arise after a disappearance, the Law Reform Commission has said.

The commission said there is a particular need to allow access to a missing person’s bank account so that bills can be paid in their absence.

The commission’s Civil Law Aspects of Missing Persons report, to be launched tonight, recommends legislation should also be put in place so that families can obtain a presumption of death order for the missing person that would allow them to get a death certificate.

Up to 8,000 people are reported missing every year in Ireland, but less than 1 per cent remain missing for a long time.

Of the almost 62,500 people reported missing to the Garda Missing Persons Bureau between 2003 and 2011, 382 people remain missing.

Presumption of death

Under the current law, there is a presumption that a missing person is alive for up to seven years after they disappear and there is a presumption of death after seven years. But this does not result in a death certificate being issued, though a family can apply to the High Court to have the estate of the missing person administered. They can also apply to a coroner in some cases for a declaration of death where death is virtually certain to allow them to obtain a death certificate, but this process is unclear.

The commission spoke to the families of people who have gone missing and concluded there needed to be legislation to deal with some “immediate practical problems”. It recommended legislation be introduced to allow the family of a missing person to apply to the Circuit Court after a person has been missing for 90 days to allow interim management of the missing person’s property. This would allow the family to pay bills or, for example, renew insurance on a car. The process could be in place for up to two years, with a possible extension of two more years.

The commission recommended inquest process should be clarified in the case of virtually certain death. And where death was highly probable an application could be made to the Circuit Court to provide for the administration of the missing person’s estate and also to make a presumption of death order, allowing the family to obtain a death certificate.