Is it Against the Law to Go Missing?

There are a whole range of reasons why someone might go missing. In the majority of cases, the person who goes missing does so of their own accord. This is often because they feel they can’t cope with something that’s happening in their life.

This may be related to a big life event or a mental health crisis, the person may not feel safe in the situation they are in, there may be a particular issue or person they are trying to get away from, or they may just feel that they need a break.

Whatever the reason, choosing to go missing is not generally a criminal offence, and the individual will not be in any legal trouble if and when they choose to return.

What does it mean to go missing?

The circumstances in which someone goes missing can vary hugely. Sometimes, it will be immediately obvious that the person is missing, in other cases it may only become apparent over days or weeks.

Legally, someone can be considered missing if they are absent from their usual home and activities (such as their workplace and the homes of their family and friends), they cannot be contacted and no one knows where they are.

Someone can also be considered missing if they have left a general indication of where they are going (such as the country or city) but no one knows exactly where they are and it is not possible to contact them.

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Is it ever illegal for someone to go missing?

Though it is usually well within an individual’s rights to choose to go missing, this is not always the case. There are some situations where this would be considered against the law.

This includes:

  • If the missing person is under the age of 18.
  • If the missing person has been detained by the Mental Health Act.
  • If the missing person is legally in the care of another person.
  • If the person has chosen to go missing because they have committed a crime and are avoiding arrest or prosecution.

What about what a missing person leaves behind?

When someone goes missing, they often leave behind their responsibilities. Again, though this isn’t illegal per se, it will likely result in repercussions. For example, someone not making rent or mortgage payments could result in losing their home, just as them not attending work could result in their employment being terminated.

There could also be significant legal repercussions if a missing person leaves children or other people who are dependent on them behind. This is likely to result in the involvement of social services and could mean there are changes to any legal custody agreements.

Going missing could also compromise any legal positions an individual holds, such as if they are acting as an attorney or deputy for a loved one who no longer has capacity.

Will the police get involved when someone goes missing?

When a person goes missing, the disappearance will usually be reported to the police by someone who is concerned for their welfare. This could be a family member, friend, employer or colleague, or even a professional, such as a case worker.

Though the missing person will not be in trouble with the police, once someone has been reported missing, the police will start searching for them in order to confirm they are safe and well. This may involve a publicity campaign involving ‘missing person’ posters and social media posts.

If the person is over eighteen and within their rights to go missing, the police will not be able to make them return home or disclose their location to whoever has reported them missing. However, the police will need to meet with the missing person face-to-face in order to confirm they are not in any danger before they close the case. This can be done in a different city by a different police force than where the person went missing from. It can also be done with the assistance of a charity such as Missing People.

When might you need legal support?

You may wish to access support from an experienced legal professional if you are trying to manage the affairs of a missing person while they are away. New legislation came in in 2017 which means that the loved ones of a missing person can now apply to be appointed as a guardian over their property, belongings and finances.

If you have any questions about the legalities of either going missing, staying missing or supporting a loved one who has gone missing, a solicitor specialising in missing persons law is likely to be able to help.

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