The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Compensation Culture

The power to award compensation is one of the magistrates' most important powers. After all, there is a deal of natural justice in making people pay for damage they have caused, even though where the damage is enormous and the perpetrator on £45 a week benefit we sometimes have to take a realistic view. There is a list of suggested injury compensation awards in the Bench Book at page 183 of the pdf file. We may sometimes make a compensation order as a sentence in its own right where criminality is not too high but a victim has suffered a loss.
A court is obliged to consider compensation, but it remains one of the decreasing number of areas where we pretty much have a free hand. If property has been damaged the police may put in a compensation claim, but they often don't and we are thrown back onto Mark 1 Common Sense, which suits me fine. As ordinary citizens members of a bench of magistrates are well placed to make a fair guess at the cost of putting something right, and also, on occasion, to scale back an inflated claim.
Many years ago there was an incident in a pub in which a young man hurled various things across the bar, breaking bottles and glasses, and then scuffled with the manager, ripping the latter's shirt. The victim put in a claim for nearly £2,000. We went through it line-by-line, and found that every bottle on the optics had allegedly been broken, and that every one was full at the time. Funny, that. The manager claimed £140 for his shirt, and various bits and pieces behind the bar came to a hundred here and a hundred there. Unfortunately for him we knew that ten days after the incident the pub had undergone scheduled refurbishments, being gutted and refitted, so the claims to replace various shelves and wooden mouldings referred to stuff that would have been in the skip within a fortnight. Nevertheless the pub was still entitled to reasonable compensation, so we set our own figure of about a fifth of the claim. Nobody seemed surprised.