Stiffer sentences to be imposed on those who assault emergency workers
Ministers are to bring forward legislation to double the maximum term for those convicted of assaults on frontline staff, including police officers and firefighters.
It will be the second change in two years after the 2018 Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act increased the maximum sentence from six months to a year.
The law change also meant that when a person is convicted of offences including sexual assault or manslaughter, the judge must consider whether the offence was committed against an emergency worker as an aggravating factor meriting an increase in the sentence.
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland is due to publish a Sentencing White Paper setting out the plans on Wednesday (September 16).
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Our police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers are our frontline heroes who put their lives on the line every single day to keep us safe, yet some despicable individuals still think it’s acceptable to attack, cough or spit at these courageous public servants.
“This new law sends a clear and simple message to these vile thugs – you will not get away with such appalling behaviour and you will be subject to the force of the law.”
More than 11,000 people were prosecuted for assaulting an emergency worker in 2019, the Ministry of Justice said.
Assaults cover acts including being pushed, shoved or spat at, but prosecutions can take place under more serious offences when an emergency worker is seriously injured.
The new law will apply to police, prison staff, custody officers, fire service personnel, search and rescue workers and frontline health workers.
The chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Martin Hewitt, said: “We will use the full force of the law to prosecute anyone who uses violence against those who are on the front line and the doubling of the maximum sentence sends a clear message that society will not tolerate abuse of our emergency workers.”
John Apter, chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, welcomed the change, which he said had come about after “an incredible amount of hard work and lobbying” by the organisation.
He said: “The Police Federation of England and Wales has been relentless in campaigning for an increase in maximum jail sentences for those who attack emergency workers, so we welcome this decision to double sentences.
“There must be a meaningful deterrent for those who attack emergency workers. Being assaulted – whether you are a police officer, firefighter, prison officer or paramedic – is completely unacceptable. The sentences should always be a deterrent and reflect the seriousness they deserve.
“The Assaults on Emergency Workers Act 2018 was intended to protect police officers, act as a deterrent, and punish those who have no regard for the rule of law. We would now urge Magistrates and Judges to step up to the plate and dish out these maximum sentences of two years.
“The fact is attacks on blue light workers should never be considered ‘just part of the job.’ Longer sentences can therefore act as a strong deterrent for those who think that it is acceptable to assault police officers or other emergency service workers.”
The new law will mean that when a person is convicted of offences – including sexual assault or manslaughter – a judge must consider whether an offence against an emergency worker merits an increase in sentence.
The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners workforce lead Kim McGuinness said: “It is unimaginable for most of us that our police, fire and other emergency workers can be the subject of an assault, often when they are made vulnerable as a result of going about the business of protecting and serving our communities.
“It is to be hoped that doubling the maximum sentence sends out a clear message that such cowardly attacks are unacceptable in our society and that longer sentences act as some kind of deterrent.”
The White Paper will also outline plans to allow judges to impose tougher sentences on dangerous criminals and end the “ridiculous” system where offenders are let out of prison early to commit further crimes, the Prime Minister has said.
Boris Johnson told the Cabinet that “public protection” would be the overriding principle in the reforms.
Mr Johnson said the measures would include longer sentences for child killers, lowering the age limit on whole-life tariffs and measures to force violent criminals to spend longer behind bars before they can apply for parole.
He told ministers: “We have seen far too many cases recently of criminals being let out early and then offending again and the judges being unable to impose the stiff sentences that they want and that society wants because of the restrictive guidelines that they face.”
He highlighted “massive” investment in policing but “there’s no point in catching the criminals if they are simply going to be let out early”.
He told ministers that he wanted “sensible approaches to sentencing, making it easier for judges to put dangerous offenders behind bars for longer” and to end the “ridiculous state of affairs whereby a criminal can get back out onto the streets even when it is clear to everybody – including the court – that they pose a threat to justice and a threat to the British public”.
“That includes longer sentences for child killers, lowering the age limit on whole-life tariffs for the worst offenders and locking (up) for longer more of the most violent criminals before they can apply for parole.
“What we are doing is we are putting public protection as the single most important factor in our criminal justice policy and I think that will command the sympathy and approval of the British public.”