What is Restitution Law?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 03 February 2020
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Restitution law is an area of the law which pertains to situations in which people are required to surrender unfair gains, such as stolen goods or cash which was obtained illegally. Closely related is compensation, in which people must provide payments for losses which are the result of their actions. There are a number of circumstances under which people may be ordered to pay restitution.

When someone gains at the expense of another, this can be a cause for a restitution case. Someone may experience unjust enrichment, for example, or may steal money or property from another person. A breach of fiduciary duty can also result in a restitution order. Fiduciary duty occurs when someone has a responsibility to manage financial matters with someone else, such as a shareholder, in mind. When the person does not fulfill this duty and is enriched as a result, this is considered an unfair gain which may be pursued under restitution law.

Cases involving restitution law can include civil and criminal cases. When someone is sued for breach of contract and ordered to provide restitution, for example, this is a civil matter. By contrast, a thief who breaks into a business and steals merchandise is prosecuted in criminal court for the theft, and the judge can also order the thief to provide restitution. This may take the form of a return of the stolen goods or a cash payment to allow the business to replace them.


People can be ordered to pay restitution in many different situations. Restitution itself is not a punishment, however, and it cannot be unreasonable when compared with the gains someone experienced. In the event that someone is ordered to pay an amount which is deemed unfair, it can be fought on appeal. The judge who reviews the appeal will consider the facts of the matter and the restitution law which applies before issuing a ruling which either upholds the previous decision or rescinds it and changes the amount of the damages.

One area in which restitution law can become especially complex is in debates over restitution for events such as slavery and the Holocaust. Some people argue that the victims of these events deserve restitution from the people who perpetrated them. It can be difficult to track down responsible parties in the modern day, however, and to determine who should be awarded restitution and the amount which would be appropriate.


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Post 1

If one reposes their trust in a financial institution to administer their private pension plan under the original registration of the plan i.e. federal or provincial and the institution arbitrarily changes the attestation of either federal to provincial or vice versa. Is this a breach of fiduciary duty given that it is illegal to do so according to employment pension plan legislation?

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