New legislation which doubles the maximum sentence for common assault from six months to a year, if committed against a police officer, medic or prison officer, comes into force today (13 November 2018).

The Assault on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, was debated in parliament before receiving Royal Assent earlier this year. The tougher laws come in response to startlingly high numbers of offences committed against emergency services personnel.

The law introduces harsher penalties for defendants convicted of assaulting the following workers in the course of their jobs:

  • Police officers
  • Prison workers
  • Firefighters
  • Search and rescue officers
  • NHS workers, such as paramedics

In April, when the legislation received its third reading, MPs moved to amend the Bill by introducing an amendment to the Police Act 1996. Section 89 of the 1996 Act makes it an offence to assault a constable in the execution of his duty and currently imposes a maximum sentence of 6 months. It also provides that assaulting a police officer is a summary-only offence, meaning it can only be heard before magistrates, rather than in a Crown Court.

In contrast, the new legislation provides that the offence of assaulting a PC will be an either-way offence, suitable for trial at both the Magistrates and Crown Courts. The maximum sentence has also been raised from 6 months to a year. The reality of this is that more cases of this nature may be heard in the Crown Court, rather than before Magistrates who still only have the power to impose a maximum sentence of 6 months for a single offence.

The legislation allows magistrates and judges to treat the fact that a victim is an emergency worker, as an aggravating factor when considering the seriousness of the following offences:

  • Threats to kill
  • Grievous bodily harm (GBH)
  • Actual bodily harm (ABH)
  • Manslaughter
  • Kidnapping

Home Office data from police forces across the country have found that over 26,000 officers were assaulted in the course of exercising their duties between April 2017 and April 2018. Defendants facing prosecution for an assault against an emergency worker can expect to see the Courts taking a more robust approach to sentencing with a view to lower these figures over the coming months.

The CPS has also published guidance on prosecuting suspects for offences against emergency workers.

If you would like advice or assistance in relation to a criminal offence, please contact a member of the criminal defence team at or on +44 (0) 203 814 2020