The chair of Cambridgeshire Police Federation has fully supported tougher automatic sentences for people who threaten to ‘weaponise’ COVID-19 by spitting or coughing on officers.
Liz Groom was speaking after the Sentencing Council consultation for new guidelines introduces a new high culpability factor in common assault offences of ‘intention to cause fear of serious harm, including disease transmission’ as well as the inclusion of ‘spitting or coughing’ as an aggravating factor.
While definitive guidelines are not expected to come into force until next year, interim guidance has been issued now.
“The act of spitting or coughing on anyone is disgusting but to do it in the current climate while we all battle a worldwide pandemic is astonishing. I cannot believe people can do such a thing,” says Liz.
“Our members are out on the streets protecting communities with a silent and deadly killer surrounding them. Can you imagine how they must feel if someone spits or coughs on them while using the threat of the coronavirus as a weapon?
“I am delighted that the guidance has been released so quickly to deal with the problem and I hope people might think twice about choosing that course of action if they know how harsh the penalties could be.”
The guidelines, which apply to adult offenders, will help courts in England and Wales take a consistent approach to sentencing assault offences, make a more effective assessment of the seriousness of those offences, and impose appropriate and proportionate sentences.
They also include specific guidance for the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 and contain an increased number of custodial starting points.
The chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW), John Apter, has also voiced his support to the measures.
“I am pleased that the Sentencing Council has listened to the serious concerns we have raised recently about the many vile, disgusting individuals who weaponise this virus against police officers and other emergency service workers,” says John.
“Spitting was a problem long before this pandemic, but those who recklessly threaten officers with COVID-19 deserve every day they spend in prison. It is reassuring to see the Sentencing Council recognises the seriousness of these offences and is looking to give the judiciary greater guidance to ensure harsher, automatic jail sentences.
“I am particularly grateful the Sentencing Council considered the issue of offences involving spitting and coughing and decided to issue interim guidance on this, given that the proposals they are consulting on won’t be in force for some time. It is essential that my colleagues who face such attacks feel supported by the criminal justice system, and this step by the Sentencing Council certainly helps with this.”
The council is inviting views from judges, magistrates, legal practitioners and the public during a consultation process, which is open until 15 September 2020. Definitive guidelines are expected to come into force in 2021.