Courts must use full powers on officer assaults

Assaults on police officers must be punished with the maximum sentences available under new guidelines, say the chair of South Wales Police Federation.

Steve Treharne said judges and magistrates should ensure the revised sentencing guidelines, which come into force in July, are used to their full effect on anyone who attacks an emergency service worker.

He was commenting after new advice was published by the Sentencing Council, the independent body set up to promote greater transparency and consistency in sentencing.

Steve explained: “The Sentencing Council’s new guidelines will be very much welcomed by our members. Judges and magistrates must now use the new guidelines to their full extent to make sure anyone who assaults a police officer or other emergency service worker receives the toughest sentence possible.

“Police officers are far too often being subjected to brutal attacks that not only leave physical scars but also have a huge impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

“The publication of this guidance is welcome news on top of the Assault on Emergency Workers Offences Act that came into effect in 2018. These key pieces of legislation are as a direct result of the successful campaign undertaken the Federation to recognise that assaults on our officers and other key emergency workers are simply not acceptable.

“Members can sometime ask what the Federation does for them but clearly this is one key area where we, together with the support of the members, have made a real difference. We will continue to campaign and highlight the issue of assaults on our officers and hope the criminal justice system fully uses the increased sentencing powers.”

The revised guidelines are a direct result of the Police Federation’s Protect the Protectors campaign which triggered a change in law to double the maximum sentence for assaults on police officers and other emergency service workers from six to 12 months.

The Government has pledged to increase the maximum sentence from 12 months to two years for assaults on emergency workers through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently at the committee stage in Parliament.

The new advice includes factors classed as “high culpability”, such as the “intention to cause fear of serious harm, including disease transmission” in common assault cases, as well as intentional coughing or spitting in both common assault and ABH offences.

Responding to the publication of the guidelines, Police Federation  national chair John Apter said: “During the last few years, we have been highlighting to the Sentencing Council the dangers officers face and our serious concern about some perverse sentences, which has seen people walking from the court after some vicious attacks on our colleagues.

“It’s good to see that the Sentencing Council has taken on board our views about assaults on police, including the vile acts of spitting and weaponising Covid, and these revised guidelines are a step in the right direction. 

“What we need to see now is judges making full use of the flexibility the guidelines provide to ensure that the sentence handed down reflects the seriousness and gravity of the crime.

“We will be watching closely to ensure we see a reduction in perverse sentences which result in thugs who attack emergency workers walking free from court with little more than a slap on the wrist.”