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The recent Dublin Riots of 23rd November 2023 brought back into focus a relatively unknown and obscure piece of legislation known as the Malicious Injuries Acts 1981 & 1986 (“The Acts”). The Acts provide a limited right of compensation in circumstances where damage has been caused to property, or property unlawfully taken, during a riot.

WHO TO SUE?

The cause of action arises against the Local Authority where the damage to, or loss of, property has taken place.

WHAT CRITERIA APPLY?

To qualify for compensation under the Acts, certain criteria must be met: 

  • the damage caused, or the loss of property taken, must exceed £100 pounds (now being the current Euro Equivalent);
  • the damage caused, or the loss of property taken, must have been effected by one or more of a number (exceeding 2) of persons riotously assembled together.

The right to compensation is limited to compensation for the actual damage caused, or the actual loss of property taken. No right of compensation arises for any consequential loss arising from such damage, to include any loss of use of the property.

WHAT CONSTITUTES A RIOT?

The primary authorities for what constitutes a riot are set out in Duggan v Corporation of Dublin[1], which held that the five necessary elements of a riot as stated in the UK authority of Field v Receiver of Metropolitan Police[2] are:

  • There must be at least 3 persons involved;
  • They must have assembled with a common purpose;
  • The execution of the common purpose must have taken place;
  • There must be an intention on the part of the number of persons to help another, by force, if necessary, against any person who might have stood in the way of the execution of the common purpose;
  • There must be force or violence not merely used in and about the common purpose but displayed in such a manner as to alarm at least 2 persons of reasonable firmness and courage.

The practical application of this test was synopsised by the Master of the Rolls (following the 2011 London riots) in the case of Mitsui Sumitomo Insurance Company (Europe) Limited v Mayors Office for Policing and Crimes [2014] EWCA where it was held that:

“…whatever the true motive for the use of petrol bombs to set fire to the warehouse, objectively, the use of petrol bombs evidence is wanton violence towards the property damaged or destroyed. This wanton violence towards property is a hallmark of riotous and tumultuous behaviour and is a paradigm example of the situation where the victims of the damage or destruction should qualify for compensation under the 1886 Act”.

TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE (BUT ALL IS NOT LOST)

It is important to note that there are two relevant limitation periods imposed under the Acts. The first of these relates to the requirement to notify the intention to bring a claim under the Acts.

  1. Section 8 of the 1981 Act imposes a rather draconian 14-day time limitation on the requirement to notify of an intention to claim where it states that:

     “…a person seeking compensation under this act, shall within 14 days after, as the case may be, the damage is caused or the property was taken,(emphasis added) serve, in accordance with this section, preliminary notice, in such form as may be prescribed by regulations made by the minster, of his intention to apply for compensation…”.

    It is also a criterion of the notification that it must be notified to both the Local Authority and the Garda Station to which the damage or loss of property was reported. The form of notice to be served is set in SI No 41/1987 - Malicious Injuries (Preliminary Notice) Regulations 1987. There are separate application forms within this SI for compensation for damage to property, or compensation for loss of property.

  2. Once the matter is properly notified, proceedings must then issue within 3 years from the date of damage or loss.

The Courts will allow some flexibility if notification of the claim is not made within the 14-day time period as prescribed by the Acts. Section 14 (3) of the 1981 act allows a Court to extend time on such terms as it may think just. Significantly, the Court even has discretion to extend the 3 year limitation period; the Supreme Court in Cork Couty Council v Whillock [1993] determined that a Circuit Court Judge had jurisdiction to grant an extension of time in respect of all time limits imposed by the 1981 Act.  

It remains to be seen to what extent claims will be made under the Acts arising from the Dublin riots and the Courts’ approach to any such claims.

If you require further information or advice on this topic, please contact us at info@holmeslaw.ie.

 

[1] [1991] 1 IR 275

[2] [1907] 2 K.B. 853

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