‘Protect the Protectors’ Bill on way to royal assent
25 July 2018
Yesterday marked a landmark for emergency service workers in the House of Lords, as MP Chris Bryant’s Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill rocketed through the final stages before this significant new legislation is presented to the Queen.
However, the success was bittersweet, coming on the same day that police officers were ‘awarded’ a pay increase of just two per cent – worth only an 0.85% increase in real terms.
Sponsored by Baroness Donaghy and Chris Bryant the Bill proposes to make assault or sexual assault against a blue light worker an aggravating factor punishable by up to 12 months in prison, and is in response to the Protect the Protectors campaign by the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW), in partnership with the Prison Officers’ Association (POA), the British Transport Police Federation.
PFEW is pleased with the progress of the Bill which gives police added protection when it comes to sexual assault and that is welcome news for our members, but the deterrents are still not strong enough.
PFEW had been lobbying for an assault on an emergency worker to carry a maximum sentence of 24 months in prison. This proposal was not accepted, with the Government maintaining its original proposal of a 12 months maximum sentence for this new offence.
As it stands however, magistrates are unable to impose this increased tariff as their sentencing powers are limited to six months. In order to change that the government would need to enact another piece of legislation, which has been sitting dormant on the statute books since 2003. If that does not happen, the 12 month maximum would only be available for those offenders sentenced at a Crown Court.
Chris Bryant MP, sponsor of the Bill said: “For too long emergency workers have had to put up with being spat at, punched and head-butted - and often the courts have simply shrugged their shoulders. That must now come to an end. This Bill will give vital protections to police officers and other emergency workers across the country so I’m delighted it has made it through the Lords so quickly. Baroness Donaghy has done an excellent job getting the support of Members of the House of Lords and I’m pleased the government are still backing this urgent and much needed law.
“MPs and Lords from all political parties agree that we must protect our protectors, so the government now needs to make sure that the new law is fully implemented as soon as possible by the prosecuting authorities and the courts.”
Calum Macleod, Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales said: “We are indebted to Baroness Donaghy and Chis Bryant MP for their commitment and determination to get this Bill through. Their unfailing support of emergency workers has been a huge boost for these vital public services. I now hope that this is replicated throughout the criminal justice system.
“Now more than ever it is essential that magistrates take the issue of assaults more seriously and don’t let the side down.
“All too often I speak with officers whose attackers have faced little or no consequences for their actions. This is totally unacceptable – the justice system needs to support those who risk their lives to enforce the law.
“Magistrates do not have 12 months sentencing powers, therefore six months is the maximum we can expect at the moment. We need to end the practice of offenders being under-charged and prosecuted for less serious offences.
“We will continue our campaign to better Protect the Protectors and pursue tougher sentences, improved welfare and support for those who risk so much every day.
“It should also be mentioned that on the same day that the House of Lords passed the Bill and recognised the need to better protect emergency service workers from horrific assaults, the Government undermined that support by giving police officers a derisory pay increase. These are the very people who are being assaulted, spat on and abused".
Assurances have previously been given by the Government in the House of Commons that the degrading act of spitting, which is already considered a common assault, be made clearer to the authorities. Minister for Justice, Rory Stewart said that this will be made more specific and that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is clearly instructed.
The Home Office estimates that there were 24,000 assaults on police officers in 2016/17 in England and Wales. Our own welfare survey results suggests there were more than two million unarmed physical assaults and a further 302,842 assaults using a deadly weapon during the same period.