Old Bailey Solicitors

Assaulting a Police Officer – Sentencing Guidelines

Assaulting a Police Officer – Sentencing Guidelines

An assault on a police officer, falls under the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018. Previously an assault on a police officer was charged under the Police Act 1996, however the new legislation was introduced to give the court greater sentencing powers. Assaulting a police officer is now deemed an aggravated assault and is therefore treated more seriously by the courts.

Section 1 of the 2018 Act states that the section “applies to an offence of common assault, or battery, that is committed against an emergency worker acting in the exercise of their functions as an emergency worker”.

What is common assault or battery?

Common assault is committed when a person intentionally or recklessly causes someone to fear that unlawful force is going to be inflicted upon them. This means that inciting fear can be considered assault, even if there was no contact between the accused and the victim.

Unlike assault, battery occurs when there is unlawful contact between the accused and the victim. Battery is committed when someone intentionally or recklessly applies unlawful force to another person.

What is an emergency worker?

A list of roles falling within the definition of “emergency worker” is set out at s.3(1) of the 2018 Act, which includes a police officer (or police constable). There are 10 roles listed in total:

  1. Constable
  2. Person (other than a constable) who has the powers of a constable or is otherwise employed for police purposes or is engaged to provide services for police purposes
  3. National Crime Agency Officer
  4. Prison Officer
  5. Person (other than a prison officer) employed or engaged to carry out functions in a custodial institution of a corresponding kind to those carried out by a prison officer
  6. Prison Custody Officer
  7. Custody Officer
  8. Person employed for the purposes of providing, or engaged to provide, fire services or fire and rescue services
  9. Person employed for the purposes of providing, or engaged to provide, search services or rescue services (or both)
  10. Person employed for the purposes of providing, or engaged to provide NHS health services, or services in the support of the provision of NHS health services

What must the prosecution prove?

For common assault, the prosecution needs to prove that the victim reasonably believed that they would be harmed or offended by the accused’s conduct. In other words, the police officer must be aware of the accused’s potential to harm or offend them. The prosecution must also prove that the accused intended to cause fear of immediate violence to the officer.

As for battery, the prosecution needs to prove that the accused intended to apply unlawful force to the victim. There is no requirement that the police officer suffers a personal injury or bodily harm, only that contact was made.

An assault is committed recklessly if the accused has taken an unjustified risk that leads to the assault of a police officer. The prosecution needs to prove that the offender had a deliberate lack of concern for whether or not injurious consequences would result from their actions.

Additionally, the prosecution must prove that the police officer was “acting in exercise of functions as an emergency worker.” While this phrase has no statutory definition, the prosecution must identify what the police officer was doing at the time of the alleged offence.  The officer does not have to have been acting in the circumstances of an emergency but is required to be performing activities that are part of their role as emergency workers.

How is the accused’s punishment determined in the sentencing guidelines

A conviction for assaulting a police officer attracts a maximum sentence of 2 years custody (imprisonment) and a minimum sentence of a low-level community order. The guidelines have recently been updated as of 28 June 2022, therefore if you are charged with an assault on a police officer prior to 28 June 2022, the maximum sentence you can receive is 1 year custody. If the offence was committed after 28 June 2022 the maximum sentence has been extended to 2 years custody.

The court takes into consideration the level of harm caused to the victim as well as the culpability of the accused.

The level of culpability is determined by weighing several factors. The court will balance the following characteristics to reach a fair assessment of the offenders’ culpability. The characteristics that determine a high level of culpability include intention to cause fear of serious harm, use of substantial force and threatening the use of weapon or leading role in a group activity. As for lesser culpability, these characteristics include a lesser role in a group activity, a mental disorder or learning disability and excessive self-defence.

Harm refers to the injuries, loss, or damage. The level of harm is determined by the number of injuries caused to the victim, severity of the victim’s injuries and duration or longevity of any psychological harm or distress caused to the victim. The court will look at the facts of the case to determine the appropriate level of harm.

What to do if you have been accused of assault or battery?

Assaulting a police officer is a serious criminal charge which can result in a prison sentence of up to 2 years along with a criminal record that may cause difficulties with your current or future employment. A conviction of this offence is at high risk of receiving a prison sentence therefore if you have been charged with this offence you should always seek out expert legal representation as soon as possible. If you are facing investigation or prosecution for Assaulting a Police Officer you can contact one of our specialist criminal solicitors who will talk you through your options and provide discreet, sensitive and expert advice.


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Kelsey Reid


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