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New Assault on Emergency Workers Guidelines

Wed 2nd Jun 2021

Last week, the Sentencing Council published revised sentencing guidelines for assault offences and new guidance for assaults on Emergency Workers. The updated guidelines come into effect from 1st July 2021 and apply to all adult offenders.

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 introduced new offences of common assault and battery against someone carrying out their duties as an Emergency Worker, including those in the prison and ambulance services.

Since the Act came into force on 13th September 2018, practitioners have been without sentencing guidelines when dealing with cases involving such offences. This gap has now been bridged with the new guidelines.

The guidelines for Assault on Emergency Workers offences are the same for offences of common assault and racially or religiously aggravated assault.

Unlike the old Common Assault guidelines, the new guidance separates harm into three categories. Category 1 is more than minor physical or psychological harm or distress, Category 2 is minor physical or psychological harm or distress, Category 3 is no or very low-level physical harm or distress. As a result of this change, practitioners ought to familiarise themselves with the new category ranges, for example an offence categorised as Level 1 Harm, Culpability A has a starting point of a high-level community order with a range of a low-level community order to 26 weeks’ custody.

Likewise, the factors when considering higher culpability have shifted slightly. Those factors now include:

  • Prolonged/persistent assault;
  • Use of substantial force;
  • Strangulation/suffocation/asphyxiation.

The motivation of the offence by hostility based on disability, sexual orientation or transgender identity is no longer a factor demonstrating higher culpability but instead is considered as an aggravating factor.

There are also new aggravating features set out, including:

  • Deliberate spitting or coughing;
  • Biting
  • The offence being committed against those working in the public sector or providing a service to the public or against a person coming to the assistance of an emergency worker;
  • Offence committed in prison

Of greater importance perhaps is the new and transparent approach as to how practitioners account for the aggravated offences of assault on an Emergency Worker and Racially or Religiously aggravated offences. It follows that once the category of the basic offence has been determined, the Court then ought to apply an appropriate uplift to the sentence. The new guidelines advise what uplift should be applied to each category of offence. So, in the case of assaults on Emergency Workers, if an offence at a basic level is deemed Category A1 the court must either, increase the length of custodial sentence if already considered for the basic offence, or consider a custodial sentence if not already considered for the basic offence.

These new guidelines are a welcome addition to the assault guidelines and bring clarity and consistency to sentencing such offences. It is advised that practitioners familiarise themselves with the new guidelines before they come into effect on 1st July 2021.

Ella Embleton
Pupil Barrister

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