19:02, April 15 220 0 theguardian.com

2020-04-15 19:02:03
Tougher penalties proposed for attacks on UK emergency workers

Judges will be able to impose tougher punishments on anyone convicted of assaulting emergency workers or threatening to transmit diseases under sentencing guidelines proposals published on Thursday.

The Independent Sentencing Council recommendations implement changes introduced under the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, in which a higher statutory maximum of 12 months in prison was introduced.

During the first nine months of last year, the consultation notes, 6,400 offenders were sentenced under this offence.

Emergency workers include police officers, prison officers, firefighters, search and rescue personnel, NHS medical and support staff as well as doctors’ receptionists and NHS administrative staff whose activities involve contact with the public.

The council this month published interim guidance on dealing with cases involving attempts to spread coronavirus. It states: “Where sentencing common assault offences involving threats or activity relating to transmission of Covid-19 the court should treat this as an aggravating feature of the offence.”

The courts are taking such assaults more seriously. In Manchester on Wednesday, a man was sentenced to a year in jail for spitting at three police officers in Greater Manchester.

In its consultation, the sentencing council states: “The legislation has not increased maximum sentences for these more serious offences, but instead makes the commission of an ABH [actual bodily harm] or GBH [grievous bodily harm] against an emergency worker a statutory aggravating factor, to provide for an uplift to be applied to the sentence in the same way in which other statutory aggravating factors, such as previous convictions of an offender, provide for an increased sentence.”

The council said its proposed changes reflected “the clear intention of parliament to increase sentences for assaults on those designated as emergency workers. All but one offence category therefore provides for a custodial sentence to be imposed, and half of the categories include custodial starting points.

“The most serious offence category provides for a sentence of up to the full statutory maximum sentence of 12 months’ custody to be imposed. While parliament may yet consider if this maximum sentence should be increased further, the guideline reflects the current statutory provisions.”

The consultation also introduces an additional aggravating factor relating to “emergency workers who may be isolated and unable to escape an assault”. This would include offences where medical staff are assaulted when isolated while treating an individual. Spitting or coughing has also been included as an aggravating factor.

The sentencing council proposals cover seven different types of assault including attempted murder. The council spokesperson, Mr Justice Julian Goose, said: “Assault offences can be very personal crimes. It is important that sentences should be appropriate and proportionate, and reflect the harm caused to victims.

“These guidelines will provide the courts with a framework for sentencing a range of offences, from high-volume common assault to attempted murder. When in force, they will provide protection in the years ahead for the public and the people who serve them by providing public services or as emergency workers.”

Commenting on the proposals, the justice minister Chris Philp said: “Never has the debt of gratitude we owe our emergency workers been greater – they are heroes who risk their lives to keep us safe.

“These guidelines send a clear message that those who seek to harm them will feel the full force of the law.”