Compensation in the Magistrates Court

The Compensation Order

When a defendant is convicted of an offence the Magistrates can make a compensation order when passing sentence. The order is intended to make the defendant compensate the victim of the crime. A compensation order can either be a sentence in its own right or more commonly an additional part of the overall sentence. Compensation can be ordered if the defendant is sent to prison only if the defendant has the means to pay immediately.  If the Magistrates decide that no compensation is payable then they must state their reasons why in open court.

What does compensation cover?

It can be ordered for any personal injury, loss or damage caused by the offence or any other offences which are taken into consideration by the court. The latter are offences which the defendant wishes to admit and do not form part of the charges but are listed on a sheet of paper known as the TIC (taken into consideration) form. It should be noted that personal injury includes psychological injury caused to the victim. In terms of property stolen by the defendant if this is recovered but in a damaged condition then compensation can still be ordered regardless of whether the defendant was responsible for the damage or not. All that matters is that the damage was caused whilst the property was out of the owner’s control.

What is excluded?

Compensation is not payable to the dependents of a victim who has died save for the cost of funeral expenses and provided that the death did not result from a road accident involving a motor vehicle. Neither is compensation payable for injury, loss, damage due to an accident arising out of the presence of a motor vehicle on a road.  However there are two exceptions. The first is where damage was caused to a motor vehicle which was stolen or taken without the owner’s consent but this does not include damage caused to other vehicles by the stolen vehicle. The second is when the defendant was not insured and no compensation is payable by the Motor Insurers’ Bureau.   This organisation is funded by all UK insurance holders and subject to complying with the requirements and time limits of the scheme will compensate the victims of uninsured drivers. Personal injury and damage are covered but not the first £300 of a claim for damage. Compensation if ordered in these circumstances can include an amount for the loss to the victim of his “no claims” bonus.

Fixing the amount of compensation

It is for the prosecution to establish the loss and to produce evidence this effect. The evidence will often be in the form of a statement from the victim either listing the price of the stolen items coupled with a receipt or detailing the type and extent of personal injury sustained. In terms of personal injury the Magistrates will look to their guidelines to ascertain the appropriate amount. For example a bruise could attract up to £75 in compensation depending on the size and age of the victim. A sprain could attract between £100 and £1000 compensation depending upon the loss of mobility to the victim. The maximum amount of compensation that can be awarded is £5000. The Magistrates have to balance the need for and amount of compensation requested against the ability of the defendant to pay. Payments by installments are common and Magistrates guidance suggests that the amount ordered should be paid between 13 and 52 weeks.

Varying the Compensation Order

The defendant can appeal against the making of a compensation order within 21 days. During this time the order is still enforceable and the defendant still has to make payments. Where the appeal is successful any payments made by the defendant will be refunded.

The Magistrates Court can discharge or reduce the order in certain circumstances. The first is where a lesser amount has been awarded by a civil court. The second is where the  defendant suffers a subsequent reduction in his finances which is likely to continue for some time and means he is unable to pay the either the whole or part of the compensation. The third is where the property stolen is partly or fully recovered. The final circumstance is where a confiscation order has been made in the same set of proceedings and the defendant’s means are insufficient to comply with both orders.

Compensation and Deprivation Orders

The court can make a deprivation order in some cases. If they are satisfied that the defendant was in possession of or in control of property used or intended  for the purposes of committing or facilitating the commission of any offence then the court can deprive the defendant of this property. For example if the defendant used a car to commit a series of shoplifting offences then the court may conclude that the car was used to commit or facilitate the offences and deprive the defendant of it. In terms of compensation if the defendant has insufficient means to fully recompense the shopkeepers for the loss of their stolen items then the court can order that the car be sold and the proceeds used to compensate the shopkeepers.

Compensation and Confiscation Orders

A Magistrates Court has no power to order the confiscation of property or assets belonging to the defendant which are the proceeds of crime. The prosecution will ask the court to commit the defendant to Crown Court under the Proceeds of Crime Act for the matter of confiscation to be determined and when asked to do so the Magistrates must comply. They may also commit any other offence for which the defendant awaits sentence.