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Avon & Somerset Police Federation

Sentencing for attacks on Emergency Workers a ‘disgrace’

25 February 2020

Offenders jailed for assaulting emergency workers receive on average less than twelve weeks in prison according to new data released by the Ministry of Justice.

The statistics cover the period from November 2018 - when the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 came into effect - until September 2019, and show offenders jailed for assaulting emergency workers received an average sentence of just 2.6 months. This is considerably less than the 12-month maximum sentence available and has been described as a ‘disgrace and an insult’ by the National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales.

And although conviction rates are relatively high at 80%, more individuals are currently being fined than jailed after being prosecuted under the Act.

Following the news only 13% of criminals faced jail after assaulting an emergency worker and just 18% were handed a fine since the Act was introduced, John Apter, National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, called for Magistrates to do much more to protect colleagues.

He said: “From previous Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) data we know 90% of those attacked are police officers and these figures confirm most people who attack them are still receiving nothing more than a slap on the wrist. The fact nearly 9 out of 10 individuals who are charged under the new Act walk free from a court is a disgrace and an insult.

“This Act was intended to protect police officers, act as a deterrent, and punish those who have no regard for the rule of law. While we welcome the high conviction rate, a few weeks in jail is certainly not a sufficient penalty for any assault which could have devastating personal impact on my colleagues and their families.

“Our Protect the Protectors’ campaign successfully brought about the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 which saw the maximum penalty for assaulting and emergency worker increased from six to 12 months. I also welcomed Home Secretary Priti Patel’s announcement of a review into the way the criminal justice system deals with assaults on emergency workers, with a view to doubling maximum sentences.

“However, this Act and the Home Secretary’s pledges will be useless until Magistrates step up to the plate and dish out the maximum sentence of one year which is already at their disposal,” said Mr Apter.

He continued: “The CPS must also ensure they are charging the correct offence. The time has come that sentencing guidelines must now include a minimum tariff for this offence, and there must be a consequence for attacking and assaulting a police officer. Offenders are sticking two fingers up to the system, which is unacceptable and needs to change.”

The statistics cover an eleven-month period until September last year following the introduction of the Act and compare the rate of court proceedings and outcomes for assault offences in England and Wales.

The Act only covers common assault and battery offences, with more serious assaults being charged using separate legislation.

Mr Apter continued: “The last set of official government statistics show there were almost 31,000 assaults on police officers in the last year, and we believe from our own anecdotal research that figure represents the tip of the iceberg. These statistics are an indicator of how vast the disparity is between the number of reported assaults, and the number of people actually punished for them,” he concluded.

A total of 8,647 individuals were prosecuted under the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018. In the same period, 3,317 were charged with Assault on a constable, while a total of 43,399 individuals faced Common Assault and Battery charges (includes non-police related assaults).

Avon and Somerset Police Federation Chair, Andy Roebuck stated, “We are developing links with the local CPS and ensuring that our concerns are being heard. We have worked with the Courts and CPS with bringing digitally recorded victim personal statements from officers into the actual court. This has brought success and we see this as a meaningful way of bringing the reality of the assault into the court room. Officers are not punch bags and deserve to be protected. This includes there being a deterrent from the Criminal Justice System with their sentencing. They have a duty to protect the very people that protect society”.