Written Answers. - Death Certificates.

Billy Timmins


133 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in relation to people whose spouses have disappeared and are presumed dead, who need a death certificate but cannot obtain one; if death certificates are issued in such circumstances; if not, the alternatives for these people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17275/03]

If a person has disappeared and there is suspicion that this person is dead and the place and date of such death is unknown then a certificate of death cannot be issued. The place and date of death must be known as certificates are issued under the jurisdiction of where the person died. A coroner cannot become involved in such circumstances. The presumption in law that a person is dead arises when it is proved that: the person has not been heard of for seven years by persons who would be likely to have heard of him or her; and all appropriate inquiries have been made.

A person can apply to the High Court for a declaration that a person has died. The courts can make a declaration saying that a person is deceased which in turn may allow the other spouse to remarry even without a death certificate. However, as stated above, certain information is required in order for a death certificate to issue. Where persons have disappeared and cannot be traced, applications can be made to the courts for the purpose of distributing estates.

As the Deputy is aware, pursuant to section 23 of the Coroner's Act 1962 where there is evidence of the date and place of death, for example, where a person is seen falling overboard off a boat and drowning, even where there is no body recovered, a coroner may obtain from the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, a direction to hold an inquest. Section 23 of the Coroner's Act 1962 states: "Whenever a coroner has reason to believe that a death has occurred in or near his district in such circumstances that an inquest is appropriate and that, owing to the destruction of the body or its being irrecoverable, an inquest cannot be held except by virtue of this section, the Minister may, if he so thinks proper, direct an inquest in relation to the death to be held by that coroner or another coroner, and thereupon the coroner so directed shall hold an inquest in relation to the death in like manner as if the body were lying within his district and had been viewed by him".
If the coroner is satisfied with the evidence at the inquest that the person whose body has been destroyed, or is irrecoverable, is dead, and the place and date of death are established, then a coroner's certificate is issued to the appropriate registrar of births and deaths who in turn issues a death certificate.