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New assault on emergency worker guidelines come into effect

NEW guidelines to help courts determine how to sentence those who assault an emergency worker come into effect today, Thursday, July 1.

The Sentencing Council guidelines will help courts in England and Wales to make a balanced assessment of the seriousness of the offence and impose a proportionate sentence.

It is the first time that judges and magistrates will have specific guidance for sentencing assault on emergency worker offences, which reflects legislation that increased the maximum sentence for common assault when the victim is an emergency worker.

The emergency services in Wales, where assaults on police, fire and ambulance crews have increased, have welcomed the new guidelines.

Dylan Parry, the Welsh Ambulance Service’s Violence and Aggression Project Officer, said: “A split-second act of violence can have a devastating and long-term impact on our staff, so we need to ensure that when an emergency worker is assaulted, justice is delivered for them.

“These new guidelines are a welcome addition and bring clarity and consistency when sentencing such offences.”

Temporary Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys Police Claire Parmenter said: “Beneath the uniform is a person who has family, friends and loved ones.

“Nobody should expect to come under any sort of attack when doing their best to serve the public and potentially save lives.

“We welcome these new sentencing guidelines.

“It is important that sentences reflect the harm and upset caused to these victims –professionals doing their work.”

Under the Assault on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, the definition of an emergency worker also extends to prison staff, search and rescue workers and NHS workers.

Darren Hughes, Director of the Welsh NHS Confederation, said: “Staff working in the NHS do a difficult job, often working in emotionally testing circumstances, and they are there to help people.

“Being exposed to assaults or any other inappropriate behaviour is totally unacceptable.

“We welcome the guidance, which will reflect the seriousness of the offences and the impact on emergency workers, both physically and emotionally.”

More than 4,240 assaults were committed against emergency workers in Wales in the period April 2019 – November 2020, representing a monthly average increase from 202 in 2019 to 222 in 2020, or 10%.

Assaults ranged from kicking, punching and head-butting to spitting and verbal abuse.

Tony Dicken, District Crown Prosecutor for CPS Cymru Wales, said: “These new guidelines formally require courts to apply an appropriate uplift to sentences for offences of assaulting an emergency worker.

“They also require sentencers to state in open court that the offence was aggravated by reason of the victim being an emergency worker and also to state what the sentence would have been without that element of aggravation.

“This means that it will be clear to defendants and the general public just how seriously the law views these offences.”

In 2018, the maximum sentence under the Assault on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act was doubled from six months to 12 months in prison, but criminals could soon face up to two years in prison under new laws.

In May, emergency workers in Wales launched the milestone new With Us, Not Against Us campaign to ask the public to treat them with respect.