I have pledged my support for the Police Federations campaign to see those who assault police officers get harsher sentences.
Currently, the law that deals with assault on police officers, which is set out in the Police Act 1996, makes it a criminal offence to:
• assault a constable in the execution of their duty; and
• wilfully obstruct a constable in the execution of their duty.
The key aspect to be established in both the above offences is whether or not the constable was acting in the execution of his duty and therefore acting lawfully at the time when the offence occurred.
However, there is no definition contained in a statute as to what is meant by a police officer’s duty but many courts will take into consideration all the steps necessary to protect life and limb, to keep the peace, to prevent crime and to detect crime.
Wilful obstruction of a police officer is most likely to occur when a police officer was exercising his common law powers to present a breach of the peace. At common law a police officer is under a duty to keep the peace and prevent a breach of the peace. As a consequence the offence of wilful obstruction often comes into play during a protest when police officers claim a breach of the peace – protesters refusing to stop may be ruled to be obstructing the officer in his duties.
Assaulting a police officer can happen at any time when a police officer comes into contact with the public and there is a potential for a police officer to be assaulted. This can often happen in demonstrations when it turns violent or can also happen simply when an officer is trying to arrest someone. For example if someone refuses to be arrested he may attack the officer – this would clearly be seen as an assault.
Even if the assault happens outside the exercise of the police officers duties an individual will still be able to be charged with assault if all the elements of the criminal assault can be established.
The current punishment for assault of a police officer is up to 6 months imprisonment, and obstruction by up to 1 month imprisonment.
As a former Police Minister I have worked closely with police officers and know of their bravery. Every day they run towards danger when others will run away. They never know what they will be dealing with when they go into work and as such we should give them the legal protection they deserve.
Within North Wales our police have seen their numbers cut and the pressure piled on with the undermining of the support structures they need. Toughening the laws around assaults on police officers is a sign that Parliament, and the nation, is grateful for all their work in these hard times.
The Police Federation is working with the Labour Party in holding a debate in Parliament calling for a tougher sentencing guidelines for those who assault our police. The law is in need of an update and that I why I am supporting this campaign.