MP backs Claudia family’s battle to change law

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A YORKSHIRE MP has claimed an overhaul of the law is vital as he prepares to urge Prime Minister David Cameron to back new legislation to help families resolve the legal affairs of missing relatives.

The Conservative MP for Selby and Ainsty, Nigel Adams, will tomorrow ask Mr Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons to support proposed new laws.

Mr Adams has tabled a question to Mr Cameron as he aims to highlight the plight of the family of Claudia Lawrence, the York chef who vanished three years ago this month.

The North Yorkshire MP knew Miss Lawrence and her father, Peter, for about five years before she disappeared in March 2009.

Mr Adams said: “Having known both Claudia and Peter, I know from a personal level about how a lack of guidance and a legal framework makes it difficult for families to move on. A change of law is vitally needed to help families who find themselves in the situation of having a loved one who has gone missing.”

A report by the Commons Justice Select Committee was published last month and stated a single certificate declaring someone “presumed dead” should be brought in to help families resolve a missing person’s legal affairs.

The committee claimed the current law is a “crazy paving” of different provisions which leaves families facing a “confusing, costly and emotionally-exhausting legal process”.

Mr Lawrence yesterday addressed the All-Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, whose own inquiry triggered the report.

The Yorkshire Post revealed last month that Mr Lawrence had claimed there was a “great momentum” for a change as the public began to understand the problems many families of missing people faced.

After yesterday’s meeting in London, Mr Lawrence, 65, a solicitor from York, said: “We do need to keep the pressure on the Government to ensure that a change in the law happens.”

Miss Lawrence was 35 when she was last seen walking near her Heworth Road home, and North Yorkshire Police detectives have failed to find any trace of her. The missing person inquiry was upgraded to a murder investigation the month after she vanished.

The Commons Justice Select Committee called for legislation to be brought forward for England and Wales in the next parliamentary session, based upon the Scottish Presumption of Death Act 1977.

A new Presumption of Death Act, based on the Scottish model, would only allow families to apply for a presumption of death order after seven years. The Government has been urged to introduce so-called guardianship orders to allow families to maintain the person’s estate during these years by cancelling direct debits, paying off any debts, and providing maintenance for any dependants.

The Ministry of Justice claimed it recognised the “emotional and practical difficulties” faced by relatives of missing people, and will respond after considering the committee’s recommendations.