The government is considering whether to increase the maximum penalty for assaulting an emergency services worker from 12 months to two years in prison.
The Ministry of Justice expects to launch a four-week consultation that seeks views on doubling the maximum sentence for anyone who assaults a police officer, firefighter, prison officer or frontline health worker.
If the proposal is taken forward, it would be the second time in two years that the government has increased the maximum penalty for this offence. In 2018, the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act was amended to increase the prison sentence for anyone who assaulted workers who were responding to an emergency from six months to a year.
Judges were also told to consider tougher sentences for people who committed a more serious offence, such as GBH or sexual assault on an emergency worker.
Justice secretary and Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland said: “Being punched, kicked or spat at should never be part of the job for our valiant emergency workers who put their lives on the line to keep the public safe.
“Now more than ever they must be able to do their extraordinary work without the fear of being attacked or assaulted, which is why we’re determined to look at how our laws can protect them further.
“We will continue to do everything in our power to protect our police, prison officers, firefighters and paramedics – and ensure those who seek to harm them feel the full force of the law.”
In 2019 more than 11,000 people were prosecuted for assaulting an emergency worker. A quarter of those found guilty received a suspended sentence or immediate custody.
The government said it was committed to recognising the courage, commitment and dedication emergency services staff show in carrying out their duties, including during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Home secretary Priti Patel said: “This consultation sends a clear and simple message to the vile thugs who assault our emergency workers – you will not get away with such appalling behaviour and you will be subject to the force of the law.”
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