Important changes to the rights of the family of loved ones who go missing as ‘Claudia’s Law’ comes into force on 31 July 2019
On 31 July 2019 an important change to the Missing Persons Act will come into force, ‘Claudia’s Law’ will alter the rights of the family of the missing person to provide powers to manage a missing person’s affairs on their behalf.
The Guardianship (Missing Persons) Act 2017 received royal assent on 27 April 2017. After a long wait the Ministry of Justice confirmed on 28 June 2019 that the Act will come into effect on 31 July 2019.
The Act is perhaps better known as ‘Claudia’s Law’ after Claudia Lawrence, from York, who went missing in 2009. Claudia’s father Peter Lawrence has fought for a change in legislation to provide family members of missing people with powers to manage a missing person’s affairs on their behalf.
The charity, Missing People, estimates that 180,000 people go missing each year of which 95,000 are adults. When individuals go missing their families not only have to deal with the emotional trauma of someone they love disappearing but also, often, have to also try to continue to manage that person’s financial affairs. People who go missing often leave properties which need to be maintained and which incur regular expenditure. Until the introduction of Claudia’s Law, the only option available to families was, after a period of seven years have elapsed, to apply for a declaration that the missing person was presumed dead under the Presumption of Death Act 2013. Not only was the seven year period that families were required to wait a long time for them to be trying to manage missing individual’s financial affairs without any formal authority, families often also did not want to apply for a declaration that the person was presumed dead as they still maintained hope that the person may at some time return to them.
Claudia’s Law introduces provisions that will allow families to apply for a Guardianship Order in relation to persons who have been missing for a minimum period of 90 days. Such Guardianship Order will work in a similar way to existing Deputyship Orders for persons who lack mental capacity and allow the person granted the Order wide ranging powers to manage the financial and property affairs of the missing person on their behalf and in their best interests. Whilst the introduction of new legislation will not reduce the emotional distress caused to family members when somebody goes missing it will hopefully prevent that distress from being compounded by the additional stress caused by being unable to manage that person’s assets on their behalf.
In order to obtain a Guardianship Order an application needs to be made to either the Family Division or the Chancery Division of the High Court. A choice of Court reflects the fact that in some circumstances the key points in questions might relate to family circumstances and in others will simply be focused on the assets of the missing person involved. Once the Act comes into force Langleys Solicitors will be able to assist the families of missing persons by guiding them through the Court application process.