I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for statements made by persons adversely affected by a crime to be used in sentencing proceedings in court;
and for connected purposes.
This Bill follows on from the great work by my hon. Friend Chris Bryant with the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, which allows for judges to charge those who assault our emergency workers under a new offence that doubles the maximum tariff that can be handed out in court. The Act was a crucial step towards giving prosecutors the ability to ask for a sentence that is proportionate to the injuries caused by attacks to frontline workers in our emergency services. However, my Bill is about ensuring that judges are able to consider the full impact of the cost to communities, as well as to individuals, of losing staff time, which has an impact on public service delivery, as a result of attacks on police officers, firefighters, ambulance workers and many others who put themselves on the frontline to help the public.
The inspiration for this Bill comes from an incident that occurred in my constituency last May, when Humberside police officers attended after early morning reports of a man with a knife wound and evidence of drug use. When they moved to arrest 27-year-old Josse Jackson, he spat at them while telling them that he had hepatitis C and AIDS. Repeatedly threatening to bite them, he told one officer that he would
“find out where you live and you will be dead before the end of the week.”
When he was sentenced in October, he received just 13 weeks and was released almost immediately. That left officers with a sense that, no matter the impact of abuse against them, and the demotivation and reluctance to continue on the frontline that it could encourage, it was not relevant and such abuse was therefore acceptable as it had little consequence.
Any of us would find being on the end of such an attack both emotionally and physically taxing but, for those on the frontline, facing conflict on a daily basis, the cumulative strain is immense, and that strain does not lie with one individual, but permeates beyond to teams, departments and organisations. Many of us would be able to take measures to ensure that we do not end up in such a situation again, but that ability is not afforded to frontline workers, who will be expected to run towards situations that could bring them into contact with dangerous individuals and to deal with them professionally and confidently.
Emergency workers often have to take time off to recover following the worst attacks, taking up important staff time and stretching budgets, or be kept off the frontline, reducing levels of other available staff. From April to December 2017 in the west midlands, the local police force lost 356 days—nearly a whole year—while officers recovered from their injuries. The sick pay alone could have provided for another full-time officer or call handlers or PCSOs, but it still does not quantify the additional stress burden on the remaining colleagues who are required to pick up the workload. Nor does it consider the work not done as a result of absence.
Our communities are missing out on an important community presence and resources as a direct result of the actions of criminals towards public sector workers. The professional impact of crimes can be severe and wide reaching, yet there is no national standard for how such impacts are considered in sentencing. We need to change that and to make our justice system more responsive to the effects that crime has on our public servants and our public services.
My Bill would introduce a professional impact statement, to be considered as part of the sentencing process, ensuring that the impact of a crime on public sector workers’ ability to do their jobs is considered when sentences are being handed down. A number of police forces produce professional impact statements when officers and staff are injured in the line of duty. My hon. Friend Mohammad Yasin mentioned on Report during the passage of the 2018 Act that the local Crown prosecutor in Bedfordshire advises officers and staff to give personal impact statements to the court so that they are given the same attention as those of victims. In the west midlands, police chief Dave Thompson outlines the impact on his force and the wider community during sentencing in his area.
There should be a national standard for how such statements are produced and considered. By making professional impact statements part of national sentencing guidance, my Bill would enhance the support to public service workers who have come to harm through their work and send an even stronger message that assault and abuse should never be part of the job for any worker in the UK. My Bill would take the 2018 Act further by acting on calls from the likes of Humberside police for the broader consequence—the impact on the force’s ability to continue its core function—to be considered at sentencing. Professional impact statements would help to ensure that those who attack frontline workers have to pay their full debt to society, by taking into account the impact on our communities of the lost presence of emergency workers on the street, or the criminal damage to equipment, such as ambulances, that means members of the public have to wait longer to get the care they need.
If the justice system is partly intended to reflect the payment required to society, we must recognise the full impact, the full cost, in all its guises to bring about a sense of fairness in justice. We must make it clear that those who rush into dangerous situations to keep us all safe will be given the strongest possible protection should they come to any harm, and my Bill would help to do just that.
Question put and agreed to.
Melanie Onn accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday