Old Bailey Solicitors

Assaults on Emergency Workers: Legal Position & Sentencing Guidelines

The law treats any form of physical assault against another person seriously, and criminalises assaults to prevent violent behaviour. When it comes to sentencing guidelines for assaults of an emergency workers, fairly recent changes to the law mean that a steadfast and more serious position is taken, as it is deemed that no emergency worker should face violence against them as they carry out their work.

It is important to understand the legal position of an assault on an emergency worker, to ensure you do not fall foul of the law. You might be wondering ‘what if a person I assaulted was an off-duty police officer?’ or ‘Does the law afford them more protection?’. In this blog, we will assess these questions and shed light on the law. We will consider the sentencing guidelines for the offence and offer some advice about how Old Bailey Solicitors can help if you face an investigation or prosecution for assaulting an emergency worker.

What is an Emergency Worker?

The Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 was enacted specifically to protect emergency workers. Section 3 of the Act defines who the act is intended to protect. This section provides a list of employment which is encapsulated by the Act. This includes:

  1. Police Officers (and other police personnel, such as investigating officers/detectives)
  2. National Crime Agency Officers;
  3. Prison Officers (and other prison staff employees, employed to carry out functions in a custodial institution corresponding to those carried out by Prison Officers);
  4. Escorting Prison Officers
  5. Firefighters / Fire and Rescue Officers;
  6. Search and Rescue Service Officers
  7. Persons employed to provide NHS Services (Doctors, Nurses, Paramedics, Health Care Assistants and other hospital/medical personnel), or persons who act to support NHS Services (private healthcare provision of the above). These roles are specified as having to be patient/public facing (therefore, they do not include NHS office-based staff who are not ‘public facing’).

As can be seen from the above list, the roles encompassed by the Act involves a focus on personnel who work to protect and serve the public. Their roles tend to involve face-to-face interaction with the community, which occasionally results in them being confronted with violence.

Whilst the majority of cases of assault on emergency workers involve police and prison officers, more increasingly charges are being brought against individuals who have assaulted others in the above list. A particular rise has been seen in assaults on paramedics and hospital staff, especially where people might be opposed to the medical attention being given to them.

What is an assault?

Old Bailey Solicitors has a specific and full blog post on this subject, which can be found here.

In short, an assault by battery is committed where a person applies unlawful force to another person, either intentionally or recklessly. A common assault is caused where a person causes another to fear unlawful force (and such force is not actually applied), again either intentionally or recklessly.

This means that even the slightest of touches to a person can constitute an assault. As a common-law offence, case law has defined what is and is not an assault. For example, the current law suggests that brushing past a person in a shop does not constitute ‘unlawful’ force, even if the person is touched. Whereas, clearly, a person being punched or hit by another would be.

For an assault to occur, there does not need to be any injury. The application of the force itself is sufficient for the offence to be committed.

Assaulting an Emergency Worker

The offence is committed when the two previous sections in this blog are combined:

  1. Person A (here the perpetrator) applies unlawful force or threatens unlawful force against Person B;
  2. Person B is an emergency worker, as defined in Section 3 of the Act;
  3. Person B is ‘acting in the function of an emergency worker’

With particular reference to number 3 above, the emergency worker must be ‘acting in the function of an emergency worker’. In the introduction of this blog, we discussed the question of does the law afford an off-duty police officer specific protection with regards to an assault. The simple answer is no. Whilst there is no statutory definition of what ‘acting in the function of an emergency worker’, the definition is related to the functions of the individual emergency worker’s duties. As such, a paramedic attending a medical emergency, or a police officer on duty, paroling the streets.

Let’s consider further with the below case study:

Our client, H, was at a pub for the evening with friends. H was standing outside having a cigarette, when another group and H’s friends started to have a fight. H saw an individual, K, coming towards one of his friends aggressively and intervened, punching the individual to prevent him attacking his friend.

After the incident, it transpired that K was an off-duty police officer, socialising on a night out. He had become embroiled in the situation and was acting aggressively towards H’s friend. He had not acted in accordance with this role as a police officer. He had not identified himself as a police officer to H or his friends.

H was arrested for assaulting an emergency worker, and subsequently charged with the offence, despite explaining he was acting to defend his friend (the defence of ‘self-defence’ allows a person to act to defend another.) Representations were made to the Crown Prosecution Service that it was not in the public interest to prosecute H for assaulting an emergency worker, as by his own admission in his witness statement K had explained he had not identified himself as a police officer, and had been drinking. These representations were accepted and the charge was amended to common assault. Subsequently, H accepted that his actions fell short of self-defence and entered a guilty plea to common assault on this agreed basis.

The law does not afford emergency workers special protection if they are indeed acting unlawfully, even when acting in the function of their duty. The law does not rule out the use of self-defence against emergency workers accordingly. The Crown Prosecution Service guidance on this topic notes that ‘if the evidence suggests the emergency worker was acting unlawfully, the prosecutor must consider whether the suspect has a viable self-defence argument for the offence of assaulting an emergency worker.’ This usually relates more to emergency worker functions who have need to detain persons, such as police officers/prison officers. For example, a self-defence argument may be relevant where a police officer begins using excessive force to arrest a person, such as punching them repeatedly, when they are compliant, and so the individual acts to defend himself by assaulting the police officer.

Each case of this nature will need to be carefully considered on its merits, and each action done by the individual carefully considered to advise on a self-defence argument. If you believe you acted in self-defence against an emergency worker, it is vital to obtain experienced and competent legal advice, such that you would receive from Old Bailey Solicitors, at the earliest available opportunity in your case. Early advice can often make the difference in cases of this nature.

Religious/Racial Aggravation

The CPS Guidance on cases where assaults on emergency workers have religious or racist motivation, notes that cases should be charged under the same legislation as if the assault was committed against a non-emergency worker. This is because of the legislative intention to ensure that any racist/religiously motivated offences are treated with the same level of seriousness whether they are committed against an emergency worker or otherwise.

This is because, if charged under the standard legislation for assaulting emergency workers, given the maximum sentence, an uplift in sentence would be insufficient to capture the seriousness of the offence.

Matt Bishop headshot

Matt Bishop


Trainee Solicitor

Bespoke advice, when you need it the most

We have offices in Brighton, London and Horley and advise clients on all aspects of criminal defence allegations, including sexual offences, violent offences and drug offences.

What is the potential sentence for assaulting an emergency worker?

 

The Sentencing Council have published guidelines for assaults on emergency workers, which ensure that similar cases are sentenced alike. The guidelines are based upon those for assaults on non-emergency workers, with an uplift applied to reflect the fact it was an emergency worker that was assaulted.

The maximum sentence for this offence is 2 years in custody.

The guidelines are based upon two factors – culpability and harm. The combination of higher and lesser culpability, with the level of physical harm caused by the assault determines the sentence.

Culpability

If any of the factors listed below are present, the matter will be deemed to involve “Higher Culpability”.

 

Higher Culpability

Intention to cause fear of serious harm

Victim obviously vulnerable due  to age, personal characteristics     or circumstances

Prolonged/Persistent Assault

Use of substantial force

Strangulation/ Suffocation/Asphyxiation

Threat or use of     weapon

Leading role in group activity

If none of the factors of higher culpability are present, the matter will fall into lesser culpability. The following further factors also place a person in lesser culpability:

Lesser Culpability

Lesser role in a group activity

Mental disorder, or learning disability, where linked to the commission of the offence

Excessive Self-Defence

Harm

Whilst culpability can be confusing, and difficult in some cases to assess by a lay person, the harm of an assault is more clear. The court should be aware of and consider:

  1. The number of injuries
  2. The severity of the injury and pain suffered
  3. The duration or longevity of any psychological harm or distress caused

Cases then fall into one of three ‘harm’ categories:

Category 1 – More than minor physical or psychological harm/distress

Category 2 – Minor physical or psychological harm/distress

Category 3 – No/very low physical harm and/or distress

Working out Sentence

The combination of these factors then results in a gridded approach to working out the sentence:

Higher Culpability

Lower Culpability

Category 1 Harm

Starting Point

High Level Community Order

Starting Point

Medium Level Community Order

Category 2 Harm

Starting Point

Medium Level Community Order

Starting Point

Low Level Community Order

Category 3 Harm

Starting Point

Low Level Community Order

Starting Point

Band C Fine

n.b these are the sentences for non-emergency worker assaults – please continue to read on for the uplift for assaults on emergency workers.

These guidelines are then aggravated as follows for assaults on emergency workers:

Harm/Culpability

Sentence Uplift

Category 1 Harm and Higher Culpability

Increase the length of a custodial sentence, or if one is not given, consider a custodial sentence.

Category 2 Harm and Higher Culpability

AND

Category 1 Harm and Lower Culpability

Consider a significantly more onerous penalty of the same type, or more severe type than for the basic offence.

Category 3 Harm and Higher Culpability

AND

Category 2 Harm and Lower Culpability

AND

Category 3 Harm and Lower Culpability

Consider a more onerous penalty of the same type as for the basic offence.

You will note that for every type of assault on emergency workers, the court considers them to be more serious.

As such, in many circumstances, a sentence which could have avoided imprisonment may well result in imprisonment as a result of the assault being against an emergency worker. However, the individual circumstances of every case will be considered by the court. It is therefore, vitally important that you seek expert and knowledgeable legal advice at the earliest available opportunity if you are accused of assaulting an emergency worker.

If you have been accused of assaulting an emergency worker, please contact us without delay. Old Bailey Solicitors has vast experience, and success, in defending matters of assaulting emergency workers. We offer bespoke, non-judgemental and honest advice about your individual case and circumstances, recognising the gravity of legal matters and the impact on individual lives. Choosing the team at Old Bailey Solicitors means entrusting your case to a team that not only comprehends the intricacies of the law but also approaches each situation with empathy and diligence.

 

 

 

 

Matt Bishop headshot

Matt Bishop


Trainee Solicitor

Talk To Us About Your Case

some