On 13 November 2018 the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 (the Act) came into force. Last week (and over a year since the Act came into force), the Crown Prosecution Service published guidance on 6 January 2020 for prosecutors and the police on the approach to be taken when investigating and prosecuting offences under the Act.
The guidance confirms that prior to the coming into force of the Act the Minister of State for the Ministry of Justice clarified what the underlining principles of the Act were and in doing so he stated:
“An assault on any individual or citizen in our society is a terrible thing, but an assault on an emergency worker is an assault on us all. These people are our constituted representatives. They protect society and deliver services on our behalf. Therefore, an attack on them is an attack on us and on the state, and it should be punished more severely than an attack simply on an individual victim.”
The guidance annexes to it the “Joint Agreement” between the Police, CPS, Prison & Probation Service, Fire Service, and NHS England / NHS Improvement also effective as from the 6 January 2020. The purpose of which is to set out the approach that should be taken to ensure the effective investigation and prosecution of offences involving victims of crime, who are emergency workers, as well as setting out what standards of investigation and prosecution should be expected in these circumstances. It also addresses what cooperation is expected from all the signatories to the agreement so as to ensure effective outcomes from those criminal investigations and prosecutions.
What does the guidance cover?
- It sets out the Act’s definition of “emergency worker” which unsurprisingly covers the police, fire service, prison service, search and rescue services and the NHS.
- What being employed or “engaged” and acting in the exercise of functions as an “emergency worker” means.
- The “Statutory Aggravating Factor” which under the Act is the commission of an offence against an “emergency worker” which is likely to lead to more severe sentencing by the courts.
- Racially/religiously aggravated assaults against “emergency workers”.
- Assault with intent to resist arrest deals with the interplay between the Act and existing offences under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and which offence to charge in any given case.
The Joint Agreement
There is a link in the CPS guidance to the Joint Agreement.
Paragraph two of the Joint Agreement sets out its purpose which is as follows:
“This agreement provides for a broad framework to ensure the more effective investigation and prosecution of cases where emergency workers are the victim of a crime, particularly in applying the provisions of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 (the 2018 Act) and to set out the standards victims of these crimes can expect. The principles in this agreement do not create legally enforceable rights or obligations but set out minimum expectations for all signatories.”
Those who work and practice within the criminal law environment will be very familiar with the existence of the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the considerations that are encompassed within that code. These are emphasised and bullet pointed at the end of the guidance which includes reference to the provision that:
“a prosecution is more likely if the offence has been committed against a victim who was at the time a person serving the public.”
It is, of course, entirely the right approach to bring to account, in the criminal courts, those members of society who subject our emergency workers to the type of behaviour which the principles of the Act is designed to address. It will be interesting to see whether this new Act achieves a palpable reduction in the number of assaults against emergency workers – only time will tell. But my sense is that the introduction of this Act by itself and the approach of dealing with perpetrators in a more severe way, in terms of sentencing at court, is not going to completely deter or eradicate this type of behaviour in society. However, the introduction of the new specific offences under the Act can only be seen as a positive start.