The Labour party is urging the government to use the Queen’s speech tomorrow to introduce a guardianship bill that would create a new mechanism for dealing with the property and affairs of missing people.
Before last year’s general election the Ministry of Justice, in its response to a Guardianship of the Property and Affairs of Missing Persons consultation, said the government ‘very strongly’ supported the creation of a new legal status of guardian, and was ‘committed to bringing forward legislation to give it effect as soon as possible’.
Figures from charity Missing People show there are currently 2,215 adults who have been missing for three months or longer in the UK.
Its Living in Limbo report states that the lack of clarity among official agencies about the legal position of a missing person can have knock-on effects on families’ emotional wellbeing, such as the length of time it takes for families to negotiate the legal situation of dealing with the missing person’s income and responsibilities.
More than a year since the government published its consultation response paper, shadow justice minister Christina Rees told the Gazette the government’s delay was ‘causing serious distress to a group of people who are already experiencing emotional trauma due to a missing loved one’.
She said: ‘The Queen’s speech is an ideal opportunity for the government to reaffirm its commitment to introducing this legislation and reassure families who have already been waiting too long.’
Justice minister Dominic Raab (pictured) told a Westminster Hall debate last month that the government is ‘still committed to pursuing the measure’ but that the matter was not solely about creating a new status in law.
Raab said: ‘We also need to be sure that, when the new system is introduced, there is a judicial and supervisory structure to support it.
‘Putting someone in control of another person’s property is a significant and sensitive legal step that is not to be taken lightly.’
Outlining some of the key features of the proposed new scheme the ministry is ‘actively working’ on, Raab said guardians would be supervised by the Office of the Public Guardian and required to file accounts ‘in much the same way’ as a deputy appointed under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
An application to the court could be made after the person is missing for 90 days. ‘Appropriate’ court procedures would need to be put in place for guardian appointments and for redress if the guardian’s conduct ‘falls short of the required standards’.
Raab said the ‘development and drafting work’ was not complete, ‘but we are working to complete it as soon as practicable’.
He added: ‘We are consulting parliamentary counsel, and we would not go down to that level of detail unless we were serious.’