Consultation launched to increase sentencing guidelines for assaulting emergency workers

Further to the government's historic manifesto commitments to consult on tougher sentences for those convicted of assaulting emergency workers, and in the context of several high profile assaults during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has started a consultation on further changes to sentencing rules. 

The government has already implemented new rules and secured new legislation to allow for longer sentences. The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 means that anyone found guilty of assaulting a police officer, firefighter, prison officer or paramedic currently faces a maximum of 12 months in prison. Judges must also consider tougher sentences for more serious offences – such as GBH or sexual assault –  if the victim was an emergency worker.

In 2019, more than 11,000 people were prosecuted for assaulting an emergency worker, with a quarter of those found guilty receiving a suspended sentence or immediate custody.

The current consultation is seeking views from stakeholders, including representative bodies from the emergency services and the judiciary, on whether the maximum penalty should be doubled from 12 months to two years behind bars.

Justice Secretary & Lord Chancellor, Rt Hon Robert Buckland QC MP, said:

Being punched, kicked or spat at should never be part of the job for our valiant emergency workers who put their lives on the line to keep the public safe.

Now more than ever they must be able to do their extraordinary work without the fear of being attacked or assaulted, which is why we’re determined to look at how our laws can protect them further.

We will continue to do everything in our power to protect our police, prison officers, firefighters and paramedics - and ensure those who seek to harm them feel the full force of the law.

Home Secretary, Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, said:

Our police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers go above and beyond every single day – running towards danger to protect us all.

They are our frontline heroes who put their lives on the line every single day to keep us safe, and yet some despicable individuals still think it’s acceptable to attack, cough or spit at these courageous public servants.

This consultation sends a clear and simple message to the vile thugs who assault our emergency workers – you will not get away with such appalling behaviour and you will be subject to the force of the law.

The consultation will run for four weeks and, depending on the response to the consultation, legislation could be brought forward. It is expected that this legislation would be brought forward before the end of the current parliament. 

Assault can cover acts such as a push, shove or being spat at. When an emergency worker is seriously injured, prosecutions will take place under more serious offences such as ABH, GBH, or attempted murder that have far longer sentences.

Responding to this announcement, David Lammy, Labour's Shadow Justice Secretary, said:

“Emergency workers put themselves in danger to keep the rest of us safe. It is right that anyone who assaults a firefighter, prison officer, paramedic or police officer should face the full force of the law.

“We will look closely at these proposals, but recognising the bravery of emergency workers requires more than just increasing sentences for those that assault them. After a decade of austerity, the Government should promise to end the cuts that have left our emergency services understaffed and overworked even before this crisis began.”

Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour's Shadow Home Secretary, said:

“We will look closely at the full details of what the Ministers bring forward. However, if the Government had listened to Labour MPs like Chris Bryant and Holly Lynch in 2018 the principle of a two-year sentence for attacks on frontline workers would already be in place.

“Police officers have faced some appalling attacks in recent weeks while going about their work to keep people safe – this is unacceptable and we should do all we can to protect them, including tougher sentences for those who attack them.”