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30 April 2018
A Bill making it an aggravated offence to assault the emergency services has been passed by MPs – but police are disappointed that key provisions have been “watered down”.
Rhondda MP Chris Bryant’s Assaults on Emergency Services (Offences) Bill successfully navigated its Report Stage and Third Reading on Friday (27 April) and will now be heard in the House of Lords - but the draft legislation does not provide the level of protection that the Police Federation of England and Wales has been campaigning for.
The Bill does give police added protection when it comes to sexual assault and that is welcome news for our members. However, the deterrents are not strong enough, with the maximum term for common assault remaining at 12 months.
Assurances were given by the government that the horrific act of spitting, which is already considered a common assault, be made clearer to the authorities. Minister for Justice, Rory Stewart gave his assurance that this will be made more specific and that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is clearly instructed. It is therefore essential that in addition, all cases of spitting be reported, taken seriously and prosecuted under common assault. In West Yorkshire alone there were 362 cases of assaults by spitting at police in the last year.
Calum Macleod, Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales said: “Recognition was given by all parties in the House of Commons of the incredible work of the police and other emergency services. All wanted to send a clear signal that assaults on those we rely on should not be tolerated. But sadly we were left under-whelmed.
“We are incredibly grateful for the ongoing support of Chris Bryant, Holly Lynch, Philip Davies and other MPs, but the Bill as it stands still leaves police vulnerable with the likelihood that offenders will face little or no additional consequences for their actions when it comes to common assault.
“Unless magistrates and the criminal justice system take the issue of assaults seriously, offenders will still face no deterrent.
“Magistrates do not have 12 months sentencing powers for one offence, therefore six months is the maximum we can expect at the moment. Offenders are being under-charged and prosecuted for a lesser offence. This is the reality and this is why police officers will continue to feel under-valued with criminals laughing in the face of justice.”
The debate in Parliament saw MPs acknowledge that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) too often bargains away assaults on emergency services in order to secure a guilty plea – and it routinely fails to charge offenders in proper accordance with the severity of their crimes. It was also acknowledged that offenders routinely serve only half of their sentences.
Speaking after the debate, Chris Bryant MP, said he hoped the Bill would pass through the Lords and would ensure there is better legislation on the statute books protecting emergency services by the autumn. He added: “The bottom line is – an attack on anyone is wrong but attacks on police and the emergency services is in effect an attack on all of us, so of course the law should be brought to bear on them and that is exactly what we are going to do.”
Andy Symonds, Chair of Norfolk Federation said: "I will not stop pushing for the full protection the officers I represent deserve. This is a good start but the Protect the Protectors campaign will continue full steam ahead to achieve more."