Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 (the 2018 Act) received Royal Assent on 13 September 2018. It is an Act to make provision about offences when perpetrated against emergency workers, and persons assisting such workers; to make certain offences aggravated when perpetrated against such workers in the exercise of their duty; and for connected purposes.
The background is growing concern that emergency workers are also victims of offences. For example -
This Act extends to England and Wales only and comes into force at the end of the period of two months beginning with the day on which it is passed.
Overview of the Act:
Section 39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 provides that common assault and battery shall be summary offences and a person guilty of either of them shall be liable to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or to both.
Section 1 of the 2018 Act applies when an offence of common assault, or battery, is committed against an emergency worker acting in the exercise of functions as such a worker. In that event, the section provides that the offence is either-way and the maximum penalty is -
(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to a fine, or to both;
(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to a fine, or to both.
However, the maximum sentence in Magistrates' Court remains 6 months imprisonment unless and until section 154(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 is brought into force.
Section 2 applies where a court is considering for the purposes of sentencing the seriousness of an offence listed in subsection (3), and the offence was committed against an emergency worker acting in the exercise of functions as such a worker. The court must treat as an aggravating factor the fact that the offence was committed against an emergency worker acting in the exercise of functions as such a worker. Section 2(3) lists the offences -
(a) an offence under any of the following provisions of the Offences against the Person Act 1861—
(i) section 16 (threats to kill);
(ii) section 18 (wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm);
(iii) section 20 (malicious wounding);
(iv) section 23 (administering poison etc);
(v) section 28 (causing bodily injury by gunpowder etc);
(vi) section 29 (using explosive substances etc with intent to cause grievous bodily harm);
(vii) section 47 (assault occasioning actual bodily harm);
(b) an offence under section 3 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (sexual assault);
(e) an ancillary offence in relation to any of the preceding offences.
The meaning of an ancillary offence has a wide definition set out in section 2(5) and includes (a) aiding, abetting, counselling or procuring the commission of the offence, (b) an offence under Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 (encouraging or assisting crime) in relation to the offence; (c) attempting or conspiring to commit the offence.
Interestingly, section 2(6) ensures that offending against emergency workers may still be treated as an aggravating factor even if the offence is not listed in subsection 3.
Section 3 defines "emergency worker." The definition is wide and goes beyond what might ordinarily be thought of as an emergency worker. The definition covers (a) a constable; (b) a person (other than a constable) who has the powers of a constable or is otherwise employed for police purposes or is engaged to provide services for police purposes; (c) a National Crime Agency officer; (d) a prison officer; (e) a person (other than a prison officer) employed or engaged to carry out functions in a custodial institution of a corresponding kind to those carried out by a prison officer; (f) a prisoner custody officer, so far as relating to the exercise of escort functions; (g) a custody officer, so far as relating to the exercise of escort functions; (h) a person employed for the purposes of providing, or engaged to provide, fire services or fire and rescue services; (i) a person employed for the purposes of providing, or engaged to provide, search services or rescue services (or both); (j) a person employed for the purposes of providing, or engaged to provide - (i) NHS health services, or (ii) services in the support of the provision of NHS health services, and whose general activities in doing so involve face to face interaction with individuals receiving the services or with other members of the public.
It is immaterial whether the employment or engagement is paid or unpaid - s.3(2)
Impact of the Act:
Presumably, the Sentencing Guidelines Council will update the guidance on sentencing for matters such as common assault - see Magistrates' Court Sentencing Guidelines. Under present guidelines, it is already an aggravating factor when the offence is against those working in the public sector or providing a service to the public.
Obviously, the practical impact of this change remains to be seen.
For a critical view of the Act see Secret Barrister at iNews 14 September where it is, correctly, argued that the new Act will do little to prevent offending against emergency workers and that much more needs to be done to address serious problems in the probation service, prisons and with the court system.
The Independent 13 September which begins by informing the public that 'people who attack the emergency services will be jailed for twice as long under a new law aiming to crackdown on the “national scandal” of abuse. That statement is entirely inaccurate though, in fairness, the article goes on to say that 'the current six-month maximum sentence for common assault will be doubled to a year.' However, as things stand, it would be necessary for the Crown Court to deal with a common assault if more than 6 months was considered to be appropriate.
Interestingly, the Act is the outcome of a Private Members Bill sponsored by Chris Bryant MP and Baroness Donaghy. Parliamentary materials relating to the Bill are HERE.
See the Emergency Workers (Obstruction) Act 2006