New sentencing guidelines on attacks against police introduced

Police stock image. Picture: LUCY TAYLOR

About a quarter of people convicted of assaulting a police officer receive suspended or immediate terms of imprisonment, despite the maximum sentence being a year in jail

Courts have been urged to make full use of new guidelines to ensure sentences reflect the harm caused by assaults on police officers.

Specific guidance for judges and magistrates sentencing assaults on emergency were published for the first time last week.

The guidelines were among a series of revisions for violent offences, including attempted murder, following consultation by the Sentencing Council.

Guidance was introduced to reflect legislation increasing the maximum sentence for attacks on emergency workers from six to 12 months.

Government consultation was launched last year on doubling the maximum sentence again, to two years, after just a quarter of 11,000 people convicted of the offence received a custodial sentence across England and Wales in 2019.

Last year, the figure was 24% in Suffolk, where there were 366 assaults on police officers between February and November.

New guidance includes a high-culpability factor of “intention to cause fear of serious harm, including disease transmission” and a new aggravating factor of “deliberate spitting or coughing”.

Sentencing Council member, Her Honour Judge Rosa Dean said the guidelines would ensure sentences fully recognise the level of harm caused to the victim.

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Darren Harris, chairman of Suffolk Police Federation, the organisation representing rank-and-file officers in the county, said: “The issues surrounding officer assaults is something the Police Federation has raised time and time again.

"Eighty-four police officers are assaulted in England and Wales every day. Colleagues should be going home at the end of their shifts, not to hospital.

“Our Protect the Protectors campaign led in 2018 to a 12-month maximum sentence being introduced for those who assault police and other emergency service workers.

"But sadly, that has been ineffective in terms of both punishing offenders or deterring others – and under The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill currently going through Parliament, that is being increased to two years.

“However, what we really need is consistency of sentencing. There is no point increasing potential jail terms as a deterrent if the judiciary refuses to impose these punishments.  

“The courts need to hand down the toughest sentences possible for those that decide to attack our brave colleagues, particularly in the light of the fact that in the last year we have seen some despicable people seeking to weaponise Covid-19 when spitting or coughing over police officers.”