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Busy autumn could be turning point for officer welfare, says Apter

A raft of new policing related legislation on emergency driving, the Police Covenant and Specials being able to join the Federation will be contained in a new Policing Bill shaping up for the autumn says the Federation

Changes to legislation on emergency driving, the Police Covenant and Specials being able to join the Federation will be contained in a Policing Bill that looks set to begin progress through Parliament after the summer recess.

The Police Covenant, which will enshrine welfare rights for officers and their families for the first time in law, is the result of a joint campaign between the Federation and Police Oracle.

The emergency driving legislation will create a new legal test for the standard of police driving to enshrine stronger legal protection for police drivers who are pursuing a suspect when they are involved in a serious accident.

Currently they are assessed against a standard road user rather than a trained police driver.

The Home Office has already run a public consultation on this and sought opinion from the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Police Federation, the National Police Chiefs Council.

“We have considered the responses to the consultation and believe there is consensus on the need to make some changes to ensure the police drivers are given the tools to do their jobs, while maintaining road safety,” the Home Office consultation said.

The legislation will also lift the bar on Special Constables joining the Federation so they can have the same legal protections as full-time officers.

“This is our wish list coming true,” Police Federation Chairman John Apter said.

He told Police Oracle that the consultation launched yesterday by the Ministry of Justice to double the tariff for offenders who assault police officers is part of a suite of new legislation that will be introduced in the autumn.

The proposal set out by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland is to create a two-year sentence for assaults on emergency workers.

The commitment from ministers is the culmination of months of lobbying by the Federation that has continued despite the COVID-19 outbreak.

Plans to double the sentence for assaults on officers has come after internal wrangling between the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.

The Sentencing Council has been consulting on the tariffs imposed by courts on the current Assaults on Emergency Works Act which increased the sentence to 12 months. But the courts have been giving offenders tariffs of a few weeks or months – which the Federation claimed meant serious cases were being “plea bargained away”.

“It’s good that it’s only a really short consultation which will hopefully bring it into law by the autumn,” Mr Apter said. “We knew from the conversations that we’ve been having with the Home Secretary, Home Office and criminal justice team that there was an appetite to do this. I welcome it. In some cases this is stuff we’ve been pushing for over many, many years.”

But he warned the new laws on assault would be meaningless if they weren’t implemented by the court system. A non-custodial sentence should be “the exception, not the rule”.

“We’ve been working with the Sentencing Council on this. They’ve put out a consultation on we deal with violent offenders. This should have been done before. What we don’t have is a consistency of sentencing. I couldn’t have been more clearer on this,” Mr Apter said.

“People have been asking me ‘what about two years fort GBH’? That will stand with the aggravating factor. This [the new legislation] is for everything else – spitting or punching that might not fit into a GBH offence.”

The Fed believes rank and file officers need convincing that the courts will use the new sanctions.

“The problem is, the police officers that I’ve spoken to, they very often don’t have confidence that the legal system will deal with it appropriately,” Mr Apter told Police Oracle. “I’m a big believer in rehabilitation of offenders; people do make mistakes. But we are talking about people who have demonstrated violence.”

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