Will Riots Change Society As We Know It?
Article by Phil Bristow of Nsure in Business Matters, Worthing Herald
Bearing in mind the number of mindless idiots who walk our streets, we seem to have been very fortunate that the south coast has escaped the riots and looting of the inner cities.
The riots have, of course, dominated the media, with attention quickly moving from the riots themselves on to the political fallout.
First, it was the movernment and police arguing as to how the police had reacted to the crisis; then the tough sentencing of the culprits. We have heard the government’s get-tough sound bites and at the time of writing there is now an outcry in certain quarters that the punishments are too harsh.
Insurance cover for riots has understandably received only passing attention, but it is interesting nonetheless, thanks to the Riot (Damages) Act 1886. The act enables those who suffer property damage as a result of a riot to claim compensation from the police authorities. The 1886 Act does not define a riot or riotous behaviour – this is left to the Public Order Act 1986, which requires 12 or more people using or threatening violence for a common purpose in a manner to cause a person of reasonable firmness to fear for their personal safety. The Act applies to buildings and contents in England and Wales, but not vehicles on the public highway.
Most victims should find their insurance policies cover riot damage and the norm will be to claim against their policy and leave their insurer to make a recovery from the police under the Act.
However, claimants will need to comply with the policy claims notification period, which is likely to be immediate or seven days to enable insurers to meet the timescales of the Act (14 days), although they now have the extended 42-day deadline agreed by the government.
The Act has previously come under pressure as being unfair on the police (as compensation is not subject to negligence on their part) and given the potential cost to the taxpayer (current estimates of insured damage range from £300m to £750m) the likelihood was that the police would challenge whether all the damage was down to rioting.
Interestingly, the initial rumours from insurers was a resigned acceptance that many of the recent incidents would not be determined as riots and they would have to bear the cost. However, with David Cameron’s pledge to compensate all those affected and the government’s appointment of loss adjustorsto deal with uninsured claims on behalf of the police, it would be odd to treat the insured and uninsured differently.
More likely will be discussions as to how far the Riot Act goes (does it include business interruption claims?), and as it’s a fair bet both sides will wish to avoid legal action, there could well be a deal whereby insurers agree not to pursue recoveries from the police, possibly in return for government commitments in other areas, such as an increase in flood defence investment when finances permit.
The one thing for certain is this has been very fast-moving and many have been surprised at the government’s strong stance. It certainly seems to have reflected the public mood, although it’s ironic they cannot take full credit given their declarations of police and judicial independence, but with the C-change we have seen in police tactics and sentencing, no political interference is hard to believe. Clearly, the public want the tough line in sentencing to continue for future crimes, but many sceptics will wonder if the present uncompromising approach will soften over the coming months as the media storm dies down.
Will those given tough sentences successfully appeal or be released early? Will those losing council houses end up in hotels at our expense because of councils’ legal obligations? Many welcomed the sight of police finally wielding batons against rioters, but will they subsequently face discipline or the courts themselves? Perhaps these riots will be a pivotal change in law and order in the UK, but many expect a battle with lawyers using European Human Rights laws and will say that regretfully, the smart money is on the lawyers.
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