17 April 2020
Harsher automatic sentences for people who spit or cough on police officers during the coronavirus pandemic have been welcomed by Derbyshire Police Federation chair Tony Wetton.
The Sentencing Council has issued interim guidance in a bid to stop people using COVID-19 as a weapon against officers while consulting on new guidelines introducing a new high culpability factor in common assault offences of ‘intention to cause fear of serious harm, including disease transmission’ as well as the inclusion of ‘spitting or coughing’ as an aggravating factor.
Tony said: “It is a foul and disgusting act to spit or cough upon anyone but in the current climate, it is just unbelievable that anyone would stoop so low as to use the threat of this awful virus as a weapon against a police officer.
“Officers are already facing up to enough challenges at the moment without having to face extra fear or anxiety as a result of being coughed or spat upon but we are hearing of a growing number of incidents throughout the country in which people claiming to have coronavirus are spitting at officers, or threatening to do so.
“It is good news that this new guidance has been brought in so swiftly to deal with the problem. I hope anyone who thinks of using this deplorable act against one of our members may think again if they are aware that punishments like custodial sentences could be the outcome of their actions.”
The new guidelines, which apply to adult offenders, will help courts in England and Wales take a consistent approach to sentencing assault offences, make a more effective assessment of the seriousness of those offences, and impose appropriate and proportionate sentences.
They also include specific guidance for the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 and contain an increased number of custodial starting points.
The chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW), John Apter, has added his support to the measures.
“I am pleased that the Sentencing Council has listened to the serious concerns we have raised recently about the many vile, disgusting individuals who weaponise this virus against police officers and other emergency service workers,” says John.
“Spitting was a problem long before this pandemic, but those who recklessly threaten officers with COVID-19 deserve every day they spend in prison. It is reassuring to see the Sentencing Council recognises the seriousness of these offences and is looking to give the judiciary greater guidance to ensure harsher, automatic jail sentences.
“I am particularly grateful the Sentencing Council considered the issue of offences involving spitting and coughing and decided to issue interim guidance on this, given that the proposals they are consulting on won’t be in force for some time. It is essential that my colleagues who face such attacks feel supported by the criminal justice system, and this step by the Sentencing Council certainly helps with this.”
The council is inviting views from judges, magistrates, legal practitioners and the public during a consultation process, which is open until 15 September 2020. Definitive guidelines are expected to come into force in 2021.