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The Use of the Compensation Order in Scotland - Research Findings

DescriptionThe purpose of this research was to examine the usage of the compensation order in Scotland, and to ascertain the views of victims and offenders on its use.
ISBN0 7480 5495 2
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateDecember 29, 1998

Crime and Criminal Justice Research Findings No. 14 (1996)

The Use of the Compensation Order in Scotland
Jennifer Hamilton and Mik Wisniewski
University of Stirling

ISBN 0-7480-5495-2 Publisher The Scottish office Price £5.00

Legislation making provision for the introduction of the compensation order to Scotland was enacted in Part IV (Sections 58-67) of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980, which came into effect in April 1981. The compensation order is not intended to provide full compensation to victims of crime but rather to show recognition of the victim's loss.
A compensation order can be imposed as the sole sentence or in conjunction with most other disposals and can be used for most sentences. Courts are required to take the offender's means into account and to give priority to a compensation order over a fine. The making of the order is discretionary, and Scottish courts are not required to give reasons for not imposing such orders.
The purpose of this research was to examine the usage of the compensation order in Scotland, and to ascertain the views of victims and offenders on its use.
Main findings
  • Between 1989 and 1992 there was a fall in the total number of compensation orders imposed by Scottish courts and in their use relative to the number of charges proved. Its use in conjunction with a fine accounts for almost 75% of all orders imposed.
  • Male offenders and those aged 16-20 are most likely to have a compensation order imposed.
  • The mean amount imposed remained relatively constant between 1989-1992 implying a fall in the real value of orders imposed. Almost a quarter of orders were for less than £25. In almost half of cases studied the victim was an organisation not an individual.
  • A study of a sample of four courts found that 87% of orders imposed were eventually paid in full although in some 6% of cases no payment whatsoever was made. Less than 50% of orders paid by instalment were paid on time.
  • Victims believed the compensation order provided recognition of their role in the criminal justice process and their need for restitution. Offenders, too, acknowledged the legitimacy of being required to compensate the victim for the injury, loss or damage caused by their behaviour.
  • The overall views of both victims and offenders were positive although they were uncertain about when an order could be imposed and what information the court took into account.
Since 1972 in England and Wales and 1981 in Scotland criminal courts have been able to award compensation to victims of crime through the imposition of a compensation order as part of an offender's sentence. In practice compensation orders are imposed in only a small percentage of disposals in Scotland.
Concerns have been expressed that compensation orders are not used as widely as might have been expected and earlier research from the 1980's revealed that sentencers and those concerned with the administration of the orders saw compensation to the victim as somewhat peripheral to the more direct goals of the criminal justice system. Equally, courts may show considerable variation in the extent to which compensation orders are used.
The research project
The project was commissioned by The Scottish Office Central Research Unit in order to develop a greater understanding of the perceptions and usage of the compensation order in Scottish courts. The specific objectives of the project were to obtain and analyse statistical information on the outcome of compensation orders imposed; and, to obtain the views of a sample of victims and offenders regarding the compensation order as a sentencing option and as a means of reparation for the victim.
Research was undertaken into compensation orders imposed over the period 1989-1992. The study involved:
  • analysis of statistical data on all compensation orders imposed during 1989-1992;
  • analysis of 1100 court records from two sheriff and two district courts;
  • interviews with a sample of victims and offenders to ascertain their views on the use of the compensation order.
Use of compensation orders in Scotland
Anonymised data was supplied on disk by the Civil and Criminal Justice Statistics Unit of The Scottish Office for compensation orders imposed by all Scottish courts for the period 1989 to 1992. Amongst the findings were that:
  • the number of compensation orders fell from 9450 in 1989 to 8016 in 1992. The relative use of orders fell from 5.5% of persons with charges proved in 1989 to 4.6% in 1992, with the use of orders falling across all offence categories;
  • in the majority of cases the compensation order is imposed in conjunction with another disposal, predominantly the fine (almost 75% of all orders). However, the use of the order as a main penalty has increased slightly from 19% of all compensation orders in 1989 to 21% in 1992;
  • the use of compensation orders, relative to the number of charges proved, is higher for male offenders and for those aged 16-20. The mean amount is also higher for males, although orders are more likely to be used as the main penalty for females;
  • the mean sum imposed has remained relatively constant over this period at £170. There was considerable variation in the mean sum imposed across different offence categories: around £130 for Fire-Raising & Vandalism but over £300 for Crimes of Violence.
Analysis of compensation orders
A sample of over 1100 court records where compensation orders had been imposed was collected from 2 district and 2 sheriff courts which had relatively high levels of use of the order from 1989 to 1992. Amongst the findings were that:
  • on average 87% of compensation orders were eventually paid in full although only half were paid on time;
  • 6% of orders had no payments made towards them, of which most were discharged by prison;
  • female offenders and those classed as employed were more likely to pay orders;
  • where the victim was an organisation (45% of cases) rather than an individual orders were more likely to be paid in full;
  • considerable variation in the percentage of orders paid in full occurs both over time and between courts.
Views of victims and offenders
A sample of victims awarded compensation and offenders against whom an order was made were asked about the compensation order as a sentencing option and as a means of reparation for the victim. In total, 78 interviews were conducted; 27 with offenders and 51 with victims.
Some of the major findings from offenders were as follows:
  • the majority of offenders thought the court was right to impose compensation and recognised the legitimacy of the compensation order as a mechanism for making reparation to the victim for the injury, loss or damage caused by the offender;
  • many offenders were unaware, prior to sentencing, that the court could impose such a penalty for that offence. Similarly, offenders were rarely told what happened to the money or told what it was they were being required to compensate;
  • most offenders eventually paid the compensation order in full although frequently after some disruption to payments and after further court action had been taken. Non-payment or late payment was usually associated with financial or personal circumstances.
From the victim interviews the following key findings emerged:
  • most victims saw the purpose of a compensation order as being two-fold: to provide the victim with restitution and to punish or deter the offender. Even where victims were adequately compensated, they were not necessarily satisfied that the offender had been sufficiently punished or deterred;
  • victims were generally supportive of the use of the compensation order in their particular case (with the exception of victims of sexual assault), although a number believed they had been let down by the system if only part-payment or no payment was received;
  • victims were dissatisfied with the lack of information provided both before and after the order had been imposed; the amount of compensation; the time it took offenders to pay; and the perceived leniency of the sentence imposed on the offender.
Arising from the interviews a number of potential improvements to the compensation order system were suggested:
  • improving the level of information given to both victims and offenders;
  • clarifying the basis on which the court makes decisions about awarding compensation, and ensuring that courts take into account the psychological impact and the trouble and the inconvenience caused to the victim;
  • improving the system by which victims receive their compensation, for example by paying victims from a central fund to prevent long delays in payment;
  • standardising the value of compensation orders awarded for similar cases.
The full report entitled 'The Use of the Compensation Order in Scotland' is published as part of the Central Research Unit series of reports, copies of which are available from HMSO at a cost of £5.00 each.
Cheques should be made payable to The Stationery Office Books and addressed to:
The Stationery Office Bookshop,
71 Lothian Road,
Edinburgh EH3 9AZ.
Tel: 0131-622 7050 or Fax: 0131-622 7017.

The report can also be ordered online

Further free copies of this Research Findings, or information about the Central Research Unit's Research programme, can be obtained by contacting:
The Central Research Unit
The Scottish Office
Room 306
St Andrew's House
Edinburgh EH1 3DG
Tel: 0131-244 2112.