New legislation will double the maximum sentence for common assault from six months to a year if committed against a police officer, medic or prison officer, if approved by Parliament.
This comes in response to figures showing the startlingly high number of offences committed against emergency service personnel acting in the course of their job.
The Assault on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill was debated in Parliament on Friday (27 April 2018), when the Bill was given its third reading. The Bill provides for tougher sentences to be imposed against defendants who assault the following emergency workers in the course of their duty:-
- Police officers;
- Prison workers;
- Search and rescue officers;
- NHS workers, such as paramedics.
Philip Davis MP co-sponsored the Bill introduced by backbencher Chris Bryant MP. On Friday, Mr Davis 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.
The new Bill provides that the offence of assaulting a PC will be an either way offence, suitable for trial at both Magistrates’ and Crown Court, and raises the maximum sentence to 12 months’ imprisonment. A further amendment was also debated, which could see Crown Court judges given the sentencing power to impose up to two years’ imprisonment.
Mr Davis MP also touched upon plans to increase all magistrates’ sentencing powers to 12 months for a single offence. This is a prospective provision contained in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 but which has not yet been rolled out across England and Wales. In making his argument, Mr Davis relayed Home Office figures for the West Yorkshire Constabulary to the House. The figures revealed that between March 2016 and March 2017 there were 1240 recorded assaults on West Yorkshire police officers. Statistics recorded by the constabulary also found that between April 2017 and March 2018 there were 1729 assaults on officers in the course of their duty.
The Bill also explicitly includes spitting as an offence within the charge of common assault and battery.
Chris Bryant MP said: “We want to send out an absolutely clear unambiguous message from this house that spitting at emergency workers is not on and the full force of the law should be used against it.”
In addition to the new provisions, the Bill allows magistrates and judges to treat the fact that a victim is an emergency worker exercising their duty as an aggravating factor when considering the seriousness of the following offences:-
- Threats to kill;
- Grievous Bodily Harm (GBH);
- Actual Bodily Harm (ABH);
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