Assaults on emergency service workers in the line of duty are to be treated more severely under new legislation which has been backed by the Government.
Proposed in a private members’ bill by the Labour MP Chris Bryant, who said assaults on police and paramedics were a “national disgrace”, the Ministry of Justice and Home Office have said they will now support the legislation in the Commons.
It is expected that the new Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill will double the maximum sentence for common assault from six months to a year if committed against an emergency worker while they are on duty.
Without ministerial backing, Mr Bryant’s private members’ bill would have had little chance of becoming law but it will now extend the safeguards for attacks on police, prison officers, custody officers, fire service personnel, search and rescue services and certain healthcare workers, including ambulance staff.
“We owe our brave emergency service workers a debt of gratitude for the courage, commitment and dedication they demonstrate in carrying out their duties,” a Government spokesperson said.
“This crucial change will send a clear message that we will no tolerate attacks on them, and we will work with Chris Bryant and others to ensure those who are violence face the full force of the law.”
Mr Bryant, who presented the bill in the Commons in July, previously said: “The way our emergency workers are treated is a national disgrace.
”They are spat at, punched, attacked or even stabbed whilst they are trying to save other people’s lives. We have all seen the horrific images on TV.
“But the shocking fact is that such appalling acts of violence attract no harsher penalty than an attack on an ordinary member of the public – and often no prosecution is brought.”
Under the bill, judges will also consider the fact a victim is an emergency worker as an aggravating factor in offences including common assault, actual bodily harm and grievous bodily harm.
The Government also said the legislation will create the power take blood samples, with consent, from people who have spat at or bitten emergency workers and exposed them to risk of infection. It also creates a new offence of failing to provide this blood sample without good cause.