The ongoing pandemic and successive lockdowns have led to a rise in the number of people appearing in court for assaulting emergency workers.
In this article, solicitor Sam Corcoran explains the law in relation to this offence, who is classed as an ‘Emergency Worker’ and what penalties can be imposed on those found guilty of assaulting an emergency worker.
When did the law change?
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 classed as Assault on an Emergency Worker?
To charge someone with assaulting an emergency worker the prosecution needs to prove two elements. An assault has been committed and the victim is an emergency worker.
The assault, otherwise known in law as ‘common assault’ or ‘battery’ involves the unlawful use of force (whether reckless or intentional) which results in either no injury, minor injuries, or the immediate apprehension of violence being used (threat of force).
The types of assaults commonly experienced by emergency workers 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 upon an emergency worker an offence of Assault occasioning actual bodily harm (ABH) or an assault occasioning grievous bodily harm (GBH) is more likely to be charged. In these cases the fact that the victim is an emergency worker is a statutory 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. It covers a large variety of employees and not just blue light services such as police, ambulance and fire brigade. It also does not require that they are in an ‘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 offence requires the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that any force used was unlawful. It is a defence where the force was used in self-defence (or defence of another), defence of property, 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 maximum 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 a person charged with the offence can be dealt with either at the Magistrates Court or the Crown Court. The Magistrates Court will initially decide whether the case is too serious and should be sent to the Crown Court.
If the magistrate’s decide that the case can be dealt with at their court then the accused has the right to choose whether the case is dealt with by a judge and jury 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 could also result in a custodial sentence.
It is therefore important that you seek legal representation from a solicitor with experience in dealing with these types of criminal offences. Police interviews are very important. Having the right advice at the police station can often make the difference about whether you are charged or not.
A solicitor can advise you on the strength of the evidence and whether you should plead guilty or not guilty. Even if it is your intention to admit the offence a solicitor can speak for you in court and put forward information about you or the offence which can reduce the severity of the offence and punishment.
Will I need to pay for a solicitor?
If you have been asked to attend a police station for an interview with a police officer you are entitled to free representation. Free legal Aid is also available for those charged with these types of offences, It is dependent on a financial test and the rules are different to offences in the Magistrates & Crown Courts. Further information on whether you will qualify for legal aid can be found here.
There are other funding options available, such as insurance backed funding as many insurance policies provide Legal Protection Cover or Legal Expenses Insurance. Your solicitor can look at these policies for you and discuss the various funding options which are available.
Need more help?
If you have been asked to attend a police station, or received a summons or postal requisition then you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. For an immediate response, please contact us.