Tuesday 9 August 2011

Who will pay? We all will ! The Riot (Damages) Act 1886

The damage caused by the events in London and elsewhere is extensive and the costs involved will be massive.  Who pays?  There is the Riot (Damages) Act 1886.  Section 2 of the Act states:

(1)Where a house, shop, or building in a police area has been injured or destroyed, or the property therein has been injured, stolen, or destroyed, by any persons riotously and tumultuously assembled together, such compensation as hereinafter mentioned shall be paid out of  the police fund of the area to any person who has sustained loss by such injury, stealing, or destruction; but in fixing the amount of such compensation regard shall be had to the conduct of the said person, whether as respects the precautions taken by him or as respects his being a party or accessory to such riotous or tumultuous assembly, or as regards any provocation offered to the persons assembled or otherwise.

(2)Where any person having sustained such loss as aforesaid has received, by way of insurance or otherwise, any sum to recoup him, in whole or in part, for such loss, the compensation otherwise payable to him under this Act shall, if exceeding such sum, be reduced by the amount thereof, and in any other case shall not be paid to him, and the payer of such sum shall be entitled to compensation under this Act in respect of the sum so paid in like manner as if he had sustained the said loss, and any policy of insurance given by such payer shall continue in force as if he had made no such payment, and where such person was recouped as aforesaid otherwise than by payment of a sum, this enactment shall apply as if the value of such recoupment were a sum paid.

An interesting recent case concerning the Act is Yarl's Wood Immigration Ltd v Bedfordshire Police Authority [2008] EWHC 2207 (Comm) Beatson J.  This decision was reversed by the Court of Appeal (Rix, Wall and Aiken LJJ).

In April 2002, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee report on the Police Reform Bill said:

The Association of Police Authorities wrote to the Home Office five months ago prior to the fire at Yarl's Wood detention centre—asking for repeal of the Riot (Damages) Act 1886. The Act makes police authorities liable for damages to buildings and their contents if a riot occurs under the Public Order Act—even if there has been no negligence of default by the police. The Government has said that this being reviewed, following riots in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley in 2001. The Minister told us:

    "the broad issue of whether an Act which is well over 100 years old is still appropriate has been raised. I honestly cannot say to you whether any conclusions will be reached about that in the timetable of the Bill and the issues are quite complex".
The Riot Damages Act 1886 seems arcane and a good case has been made for repealing it. Without prejudice to any existing cases, the Government should seek to repeal the Riot Damages Act 1886.

The Act remains in place.   It is obvious that any damages paid out under the Act will ultimately be passed on to Council taxpayers.  The costs of insurance will rise.  It seems to me to be likely that, in the aftermath of these events, the coalition government will act fairly quickly to replace the Act using the economic climate as a reason.  See BBC 9th August - "Will insurance cover riot damage?"

Claims under the 1886 Act:   In 1921, regulations were made governing how claims must be submitted.  As a basic rule, a claim must be submitted within 14 days from the day when "such injury, stealing, or destruction" took place.  The Regulations are quite detailed and prescriptive as to the form which a claim must take.

Civil Contingencies Act 2004?  The powers in the Act could be used.  However, this seems to be ruled out at the moment.

Other posts:  Public Order Offences 1 and Public Order Offences 2.

Addendum 10th August:  Please see MTPT blog "Recommended riot reading blogs ...."   The blog's author picks up on my fear that the government will move to repeal the 1866 Act.  He makes an excellent point about what may happen if the Act is removed.

Barrister Adam Wagner has posted several interesting links on the UK Human Rights Blog - "The English Riots"


  1. This post was reproduced on Legalweek 9th August.

  2. The word "riotous" must be construed in the same sense as Public Order Act 1986 s.1. (See Public Order Act 1986 s.10).

  3. I wonder of the 14 day limitation period is Article 6 compliant?

  4. The 14 day period is the basic position. The Regulations permit the "police authority" to extend it up to a maximum of 42 days for "good cause shown." The meaning of that expression is unclear. If the police authority refuse an extension, the matter may be taken (within 7 days of the refusal) to the Secretary of State whose decision is stated to be "final."

  5. Obiter - Thanks - that is what I thought - but several contributors to 'Gadget' seem concerned that Forces are trying deny the disturbances fall under S1 - Do you mind if I post a link there?
    [I imagine that HMG is now regretting NOT giving abolition of the 1886 Act a higher priority?]

  6. As almost everybody pays insurance, we're all going to pay for the damage one way or another. And police overtime.

  7. @ Mjolinir - I suspect that they will seek to avoid liability by arguing over the words "riotously and tumultuously assembled together." Riotously is now to be interpreted in accordance with the Public Order Act 1986 s.1.

  8. It seems that the time for claims arising from the disturbances has been extended to 42 days.