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Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill 2017-19

Published Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill 2017-19 is a Private Member’s Bill, introduced by Chris Bryant. It would introduce a new offence of assaulting an emergency worker, new sentencing guidance, and new powers to take bodily samples from suspects. This Briefing Paper discusses the background to and content of the Bill, and has been updated to reflect the Committee stage debate.

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The current law and calls for change

In England and Wales there are currently specific offences of assaulting on-duty police officers, prison officers, and immigration officers. Each of these offences is triable only in the magistrates’ court and carries a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment and/or a fine.

These offences are broadly equivalent (in terms of seriousness and injury caused) to the general offence of common assault and battery. Assaults resulting in a more serious level of injury would usually be charged as one of the more serious general offences against the person.

It is not currently a specific offence to assault other emergency workers or NHS staff. Again, such assaults would instead be prosecuted using one of the general criminal offences against the person.

Current sentencing guidelines set out the general principle that an offence committed against a public servant is an aggravating factor indicating “a more than usually serious degree of harm”. The courts should therefore take this into account when sentencing an offender who has assaulted an emergency worker.

There have been a number of calls for change to the law in England and Wales, in particular to introduce specific offences covering other emergency workers and healthcare workers (as is the case in Scotland), to increase the maximum available sentence and to cover more serious types of assault.

The Bill

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill 2017-19 is a Private Member’s Bill, introduced by Chris Bryant (who topped the ballot for Private Members’ Bills).

The Bill had its second reading on 20 October 2017. There was one Public Bill Committee sitting on 15 November 2017. Report and third reading are scheduled for 27 April 2018.

The Bill extends to England and Wales, except for clause 5 (samples under terrorism legislation) which also extends to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Policing minister Nick Hurd has said that the Government supports the spirit and principle of the Bill, but that “there will be detail to work through”.

The Bill would:

  • introduce a new triable either way offence of assault or battery committed against an emergency worker, with a maximum penalty of a 12 month prison sentence when tried in the Crown court;
  • introduce a statutory aggravating factor for the courts to consider when sentencing certain assaults against emergency workers; and
  • enable bodily samples to be taken from persons suspected of offences against emergency workers which may pose a risk of the transmission of an infectious disease.

At Committee stage the only significant amendments made were to the definition of “emergency workers” in clause 3. The definition was extended to cover non-emergency frontline NHS staff and people providing prisoner escort services.

Chris Bryant has tabled amendments for Report stage that would remove the bodily samples clauses from the Bill altogether. Press reports suggest that this follows discussion between the Bill’s sponsors and the Government about “practical difficulties” in delivering these clauses.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8113

Authors: Sally Lipscombe; Grahame Allen

Topics: Crimes of violence, Criminal law, Emergency services, Health staff and professions

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