Police Federation

Chair welcomes harsher sentences for weaponising COVID-19

Guidelines mean increased jail time for those who deliberately spit and cough at emergency workers

16 April 2020


New measures which mean harsher automatic sentences for individuals who deliberately cough or spit at emergency workers while claiming to have COVID-19 have been warmly welcomed by the National Chair of the Police Federation.

National Chair John Apter

National Chair John Apter

John Apter welcomed the Sentencing Council consultation for new guidelines which introduce a new high-culpability factor in common assault offences of “Intention to cause fear of serious harm, including disease transmission,” and the inclusion of “spitting or coughing” as an aggravating factor.

The 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.

Mr Apter said: “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.

“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.


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