In March 2013, the Presumption of Death Act was passed, reforming presumption of death law in England and Wales along the lines of the system already in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland. This followed several years of campaigning by Missing People.
"The certificate of presumed death that we are introducing is a significant step forward for families who face the terrible situation of losing a loved one and creates a simpler legal framework to ensure bereaved people can better deal with the property and affairs of a loved one who has gone missing and is presumed dead.“ Justice Minister Helen Grant, 27 March 2013
The roots of the campaign
The campaign for presumption of death law reform is part of Missing People’s wider Missing Rights campaign, launched in December 2010, which also includes the charity's ongoing calls for a system of guardianship to be introduced. It is distinct from the latter, as presumption of death allows families to resolve a missing loved one’s practical affairs in cases where a return is unlikely, whereas guardianship would enable families to manage and maintain these in case of a return.
The campaign is grounded in our research report, 'Living in Limbo: The experiences of, and impacts on, the families of missing people', further research with families, and our day to day work with them. The charity additionally engaged stakeholders, including legal professionals, to ensure that their views informed the development of charity's presumption of death work.
Exploring presumption of death reform in Westminster
Following an approach from Missing People in late 2008, Private Member Bill ballot winner Tim Boswell (now Lord Boswell of Aynho) agreed to table the Presumption of Death Bill. Whilst the Bill fell at the second reading in March 2009, it helped to raise awareness of the issues in the present system.
In early 2011, financial and legal issues faced by families of missing people was a focus of a meeting held by All-Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults. Following this, the APPG held an inquiry into support for this group, and presumption of death was a focus of one of the four sessions. Following this, the Justice Select Committee then undertook an inquiry into presumption of death. Both inquiries took evidence from a range of stakeholders, and made similar recommendations to the Coalition Government:
‘The inquiry recommends that the Ministry of Justice provides a framework for consultation on presumption of death… provisions, exploring the evidence base that exists in relation to presumption of death in Scotland and Northern Ireland.’ APPG for Runaway and Missing Children, Inquiry into Support for Families of Missing People, 2011
'Non-legislative solutions to the problems of resolving the affairs of missing people are necessary but not sufficient. Primary legislation is required... We therefore recommend that the Ministry of Justice introduce legislation based on the Scottish Act.' Justice Select Committee, Twelfth Report - Presumption of Death, 2012
The Government responded to the Justice Select Committee's report by stating that 'The Department has reconsidered the priority to be accorded to legislation to create a certificate of presumed death and will bring forward a Bill when Parliamentary time permits.'
The Presumption of Death Bill 2012
In the summer of 2012, John Glen MP introduced the Presumption of Death Bill 2012 having been drawn in the Private Members' Bill ballot. The crucial second reading took place in November of that year, and Missing People worked to build support for the Bill amongst Parliamentarians ahead of this, including working with the APPG Chair Ann Coffey MP to hold a stakeholder roundtable on presumption of death. The Bill was given Government support, and moved through each of its Parliamentary stages to become the Presumption of Death Act 2013 in March 2013.
The new Act came fully into force on 1 October 2014. Details of the new system can be found in the 'Legal and Financial Considerations' page of our Family Guidance page.