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Changes to missing person laws recommended

The Law Reform Commission has suggested a number of measures aimed at helping the families of people who go missing in Ireland.

Image: leoncillo sabino via Creative Commons

THE LAW REFORM Commission has made a number of provisional recommendations to the government regarding missing persons including changing the current system for declaring a missing person dead.

Every year between 7,000 and 8,000 people go missing. Most are found within a short space of time, with about 1 per cent annually going missing for a long time.

According to the Garda Missing Persons Bureau, the number being reported missing has grown from 3,987 in 2003 to 8,339 last year. Of last year’s reports, 26 people are still missing.

The remains of nine of the 16 people known as “the Disappeared” who are believed to have been victims of sectarian violence during the Troubles have been recovered, while seven remain listed as missing.

Publishing its consultation paper on Civil Law Aspects of Missing Persons yesterday, the Law Reform Commission made a number of recommendations to help the families of those who go missing, saying that those left behind suffer extreme emotional trauma over the disappearance.

Recommendations

The LRC says that one serious issue affecting the families of those who are missing is the ability to keep paying bills. It says that access to the missing person’s bank account should be given to their family. It recommends allowing families to take out a limited grand of administration of a missing person’s estate for up to two years, with the possible extension of a further two years.

Under current law, a missing person is presumed alive for up to seven years after their disappearance. However, an absence of seven years does not always lead to the presumption of death and conversely a person may be presumed dead before the end of the seven years.

The commission recommends reforming the law on presumed death so that families can apply for a coroner’s inquest to have death declared in cases where death is almost certain to have occurred. The commission recommends a court application in cases where death is highly probable to facilitate a presumption of death order. The court application would also allow for the administration of the missing person’s estate.

The LRC also says that provisions should be made for the rare cases when a missing person who has been declared dead could turn up later alive including the return of their estate.

It is inviting submissions on what the status should be of any second marriage or civil partnership a person may enter into after their spouse or partner went missing. Currently, this second union is considered invalid.

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