The challenge of achieving 'just' compensation

What is just? Australian barrister Julian Burnside is fairly well known for his efforts to try to address this question. He's written a book about it and a few years ago gave a talk on it at TEDxSydney. Burnside is a commercial litigator by practice, but his passion around justice stems from his experience fighting against unjust treatment of refugees in his home country and around the world.

How does this tie in with the issue of eminent domain, you may ask. The physical taking of private property by government may not warrant being on the same justice plane as the treatment of refugees, but let's not forget that nothing less than the Constitution of the United States says clearly that such takings cannot occur without due process and just compensation being paid to the owner. Yet, what constitutes what is just or fair, as Burnside notes, is ambiguous.

To remove some of that ambiguity, we turn to our system of justice. But, once again, as Burnside observes, the system is imperfect and creates instances of unfairness. We tolerate the flaws because the system delivers good results most of the time. Dealing with such uncertainty and achieving optimal compensation in eminent domain disputes generally requires jury trials, which means depth of legal experience becomes essential.

In an ideal world, just compensation would mean that a property owner in eminent domain proceedings always receives a sum that leaves him or her in relatively the same position financially as if the transfer had never occurred. But value isn't all about dollars and making sure that all possible valuation aspects are given just consideration is something a skilled attorney can help deliver.

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