Is there a specific offence?
Until now the only specific offence has been that of assaulting a police officer. This is a summary only offence which carries a maximum of 6 months imprisonment.
There has always been an option to charge an offender with more serious offences, such as actual or grievous bodily harm, if the injury to the officer is more serious, and this will remain the case.
However, most lower level assaults against emergency workers have had to be charged as common assault – an offence carrying a maximum of 6 months imprisonment.
What is changing?
A new law has been passed which will create a new category of common assault - assaulting an emergency worker in the exercise of their functions.
If your neighbour was a police officer and you got into a dispute and assaulted them, the new provisions would not be triggered as they would not at that time be acting as a police officer (‘in the exercise of their functions’), but if you assaulted a police officer while being arrested, the provisions would be triggered.
The Assault on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 will come into force in November 2018.
Who will this cover?
“emergency worker” means—
(a) a constable;
(b) a person (other than a constable) who has the powers of a constable or is otherwise employed for police purposes or is engaged to provide services for police purposes;
(c) a National Crime Agency officer;
(d) a prison officer;
(e) a person (other than a prison officer) employed or engaged to carry out functions in a custodial institution of a corresponding kind to those carried out by a prison officer;
(f) a prisoner custody officer, so far as relating to the exercise of escort functions;
(g) a custody officer, so far as relating to the exercise of escort functions;
(h) a person employed for the purposes of providing, or engaged to provide, fire services or fire and rescue services;
(i) a person employed for the purposes of providing, or engaged to provide, search services or rescue services (or both);
(j) a person employed for the purposes of providing, or engaged to provide—
(i) NHS health services, or
(ii) services in the support of the provision of NHS health services, and whose general activities in doing so involve face to face interaction with individuals receiving the services or with other members of the public.
It is immaterial whether the employment or engagement is paid or unpaid.
What is the penalty?
The maximum penalty will increase from 6 to 12 months’ imprisonment.
Is there any further effect?
The legislation will also create a statutory aggravating factor. This means that if a different offence is charged (such as actual bodily harm, for example) where the victim is an emergency worker, it will be seen as an aggravating factor which merits an increase in the sentence to be imposed.
Within the current sentencing guidelines, it is already an aggravating factor to assault a person serving the public, but the legislation will put the position on a statutory basis.
Why is this happening?
There has been an increase in assaults on emergency workers in recent years. Government statistics reportedly show 26,000 assaults on police officers in the last year and 17,000 on NHS staff. There has been an increase of 18% in assaults on firefighters in the previous 2 years and a 70% increase on assault on prison officers in the last 3 years up to 2017.
As a result of these increases, new legislation was proposed, and this will be the first time there is a specific offence extending protection to those carrying out the work of an emergency service. Whether this sentence increase will deter assaults remains to be seen, with most commentators being sceptical at best.
How can we help?
We are always up to date with the most recent changes in legislation, and we can advise you from the police station through to court. Early advice is essential, if you would like to discuss any aspect of your case please contact Becky Gay on 0208 563 9797, or firstname.lastname@example.org, for further information.