There have been many reports in the media in recent years in relation to changes in the law and people appearing in court for offences of assaulting emergency workers. In this article solicitor Sam Corcoran explains the law in relation to this offence, what is an ‘Emergency Worker’ and what penalties can be imposed.
When did the law change?
An assault on an Emergency Worker became a specific criminal offence in November 2018 when the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 came into force.
What is an Assault on an Emergency Worker?
The prosecution needs to prove two elements:
- An assault has been committed
- That the victim of the assault is an emergency worker
What is an Assault?
In this case they are known in law as ‘common assault’ or ‘battery’. It involves the unlawful use of force which results in either no injury, minor injuries, or the immediate apprehension of violence being used. The force can be either be intentional or reckless.
The types of assaults commonly charged as an assault on emergency worker can include pushing, punching, kicking, biting, scratching and spitting. During the Covid 19 Pandemic the act of coughing at an emergency worker has also been prosecuted for this offence.
Where a more serious injury is inflicted offences of assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH) or an assault occasioning grievous bodily harm (GBH) are more likely to be charged. For those offences the fact that the victim is an emergency worker is an aggravating factor meaning a tougher sentence.
What is the definition of ‘Emergency Worker’?
The term ‘Emergency Worker’ is broad in scope and to some degree misleading as it covers a large variety of employees and not just blue light services such as police, ambulance and fire brigade. It also doesn’t require that there is any emergency situation.
Prison officers, NHS workers, PCSOs and civilian employees within the police, volunteers such as St John’s Ambulance staff, hospital security staff and many contracted-out services, such as prisoner escort agents, fall under the definition of an ‘Emergency Worker’.
Defences to assaulting an emergency worker.
The prosecution must to prove beyond reasonable doubt that any force used was ‘unlawful’. It is a defence where the force was used in ‘lawful’ self-defence. It alsso applies to defence of another, defence of property or in the prevention of a crime or making a lawful arrest. Any force used in these circumstances would have to be reasonable. It is for the court to determine whether the force was reasonable in the circumstances.
What is the penalty for assaulting an emergency worker?
The offence currently carries a maximums sentence of 12 months imprisonment.
Which Court Deals with Assaults on Emergency Workers?
The offence is classified as an ‘either way’ offence. This means that cases can be heard either at the Magistrates or Crown Court. If a Magistrates Court decides that the case is too serious it will be sent to the Crown Court. If not the accused still has the right to elect to have the case dealt with at the Crown Court.
Do I need a solicitor?
Assaulting an emergency worker is a serious offence. A conviction for this offence will remain on your criminal record forever and can have serious implications on your life. It can affect your career and might result in a prison sentence. So it is important that you seek legal representation from a solicitor. That solicitor should have experience in dealing with these types of offences. Police interviews are very important. Be aware that suspects who receive appropriate advice, might not be charged with an offence.
A solicitor can advise you on the strength of the evidence. If you are chaged they can advise whether you should plead guilty or not. Even if it is your intention to admit the offence a solicitor can speak for you in court. The solicitor can put forward information about you or the circumstances of the offence which can reduce the severity and the punishment.
Will I need to pay for a solicitor?
If you have been asked to attend a police station, then it is likely that this is for an interview with a police officer. You are entitled to and should have representation from a solicitor. This is free of charge under the Legal Aid Scheme. Legal Aid is also available for those charged with these types of offences. It is subject of a financial test and the rules are different dependant on whether the offence is at the Magistrates or Crown Court. Further information on whether you will qualify for legal aid can be found here. Other funding options, such as insurance backed funding may also be avaialble. Many insurance policies provide Legal Protection Cover or Legal Expenses Insurance. Your solicitor can look at these policies for you and discuss the options which are available.
Need more help?
If you have been asked to attend a police station, or received a summons then you should seek legal advice immediatley. For an immediate response, please contact us.