The courts must use the tougher sentences available to them to ensure those who attack police officers and other emergency service workers feel the full weight of the law, according to Cambridgeshire Police Federation chair Liz Groom.
Liz spoke out after newly released Ministry of Justice statistics revealed that, despite a new act introducing a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison for those who attack blue light workers, offenders are on average only being jailed for 2.6 months when they receive a custodial sentence.
“The Police Federation’s Protect the Protectors campaign raised awareness of the growing number of attacks on police officers and other emergency service colleagues and led to a new law being introduced which allowed courts to impose a maximum sentence of 12 months in prison for those found guilty of these assaults,” says Liz.
“Sadly, we are not seeing the courts fully using the powers available to them under this law with the vast majority of offenders receiving non-custodial sentences and, where jail sentences are being handed down, they are for a relatively short period of time.
“We need the courts to use the full powers available to them, not just to punish offenders but also act as a deterrent to others. Police officers put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public and, at the very least, should expect the courts to give tough sentences to those who assault them in the line of duty.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel has said she would consider doubling the 12-month maximum sentence for assaults on emergency service workers but Liz says this will be pointless if courts are already failing to use existing sentencing powers.
John Apter, chair of the national Police Federation, has also responded to the new Ministry of Justice statistics and also referred to previously released figures for assaults on emergency service workers.
He explained: “From previous Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) data we know 90 per cent of those attacked are police officers and these figures confirm most people who attack them are still receiving nothing more than a slap on the wrist. The fact nearly 9 out of 10 individuals who are charged under the new act walk free from a court is a disgrace and an insult.”
The new Ministry of Justice figures cover the period from November 2018 when the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 came into effect until September last year.
The statistics compare the rate of court proceedings and outcomes for assault offences in England and Wales. The new act only covers common assault and battery offences, with more serious assaults being charged using separate legislation.
The national Federation chair explained: “The last set of official Government statistics show there were almost 31,000 assaults on police officers in the last year, and we believe from our own anecdotal research that figure represents the tip of the iceberg. These statistics are an indicator of how vast the disparity is between the number of reported assaults, and the number of people actually punished for them.”
A total of 8,647 individuals were prosecuted under the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018. In the same period, 3,317 were charged with assault on a constable, while a total of 43,399 individuals faced common assault and battery charges (includes non-police related assaults).