Harsher penalties proposed for attacks on police officers

Offenders who assault police officers and other emergency workers or spit and cough at them while claiming to be infected with diseases such as the coronavirus will face harsher sentences under new proposals published today (April 16).

Apr 16, 2020
By Tony Thompson
A man spits in the face of a BTP officer.

The Sentencing Council has drawn up revised guidelines for seven assault offences, including common assault and attempted murder, which will increase the severity of sentencing.

Defence for common assault, such as claiming an attack was not pre-meditated, have been removed as justifications, with offenders facing at least a year in prison. Evidence of intent “to cause fear of serious harm, including disease transmission” will be seen as an aggravating factor.

The changes were being considered before the coronavirus outbreak but will be welcomed by police officers and other emergency workers, all of whom have experienced a significant increase in spitting and coughing attacks in recent weeks.

The Police Federation of England and Wales has repeatedly raised concerns about the lack of custodial sentences handed out to those convicted under legislation introduced in the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, which included a higher statutory maximum sentence of 12 months for common assault against those specified as emergency workers.

The Sentencing Council said its proposed changes reflected “the clear intention of Parliament to increase sentences for assaults on those designated as emergency workers”.

It added: “All but one offence category therefore provides for a custodial sentence to be imposed, and half of the categories include custodial starting points.

“The most serious offence category provides for a sentence of up to the full statutory maximum sentence of 12 months’ custody to be imposed. While Parliament may yet consider if this maximum sentence should be increased further, the guideline reflects the current statutory provisions.”

Sentencing Council spokesperson, Mr Justice Julian Goose, said the guidelines will provide the courts with a framework for sentencing a range of offences, from high-volume common assault to attempted murder.

“When in force, they will provide protection in the years ahead for the public and the people who serve them by providing public services or as emergency workers,” he added.

The Sentencing Council is inviting views from judges, magistrates, legal practitioners and the public during the consultation, which is open until September 15, 2020. The consultation has been extended beyond the usual three months in recognition of the changes to the working circumstances of many consultees. Following consultation, definitive guidelines are expected to come into force in 2021.

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