Protecting the protectors

While holding the head of government to account at Prime Minister’s Questions is an important part of our democracy, the rest of a week’s proceedings in Parliament are no less important.

The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill received royal assent last month; officially becoming law after being approved by both Houses of Parliament.

The legislation doubles maximum sentences for assaults against members of our emergency services from six to 12 months in prison.

It includes police, paramedics, fire service personnel, prison and custody officers, and search and rescue staff. It instructs courts to consider the strongest penalties for other offences such as grievous bodily harm and sexual assault against emergency workers. This law offers additional protection to unpaid volunteers who support the delivery of emergency services.

It is important to remember why this legislation was needed. In the last year there have been some 26,000 assaults on police officers, and more than 17,000 on NHS staff. Such outrageous actions can never be acceptable, which is why the House of Commons came together to pass this Bill to protect the protectors.

Indeed, I put my name forward to sponsor this Bill in Parliament. I am pleased to report that as a result of the sheer strength of cross-party feeling on this issue there were more MPs offering support than the maximum of 11 who can officially put themselves down.

Going forward, the Justice Secretary is also bringing through numerous measures to protect prison officers, including the roll-out of body-worn cameras as well as ‘police-style’ handcuffs and restraints.

By working together, the right thing has been done for those who put themselves in harm’s way on our behalf. It is right that we do not just offer our thanks to the emergency services, but provide them with formal protections in law.

Henry Smith MP