New law protects emergency and retail workers from violence

A new law that protects public service workers from violence and abuse while doing their jobs has taken effect in England and Wales.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, which received Royal Assent on 28 April, has doubled the maximum penalty from 12 months to two years for those who assault public service workers including police or other emergency workers, such as prison officers, fire service personnel, frontline health workers, and retail staff.

It has also brought ‘Harper’s Law’ – named after PC Andrew Harper who was killed in the line of duty in 2019 – onto the statute book, introducing mandatory life sentences for anyone convicted of killing an emergency worker whilst committing a crime.

Retail workers’ union Usdaw, which campaigned for greater protections for workers’ safety, welcomed the new law, but said more needed to be done to specifically discourage violence against shop staff.

General secretary Paddy Lillis said: “In England and Wales, the government has finally been forced to take action. We secured 100,000 signatures on our petition, a debate in parliament, a Home Office inquiry and finally a change in the law. The protection of workers amendment in the policing bill is a step forward. It puts the existing sentencing guidance into law.

“This supports harsher sentences when someone assaults a public facing worker, but we still need substantial work to improve reporting and resources in the criminal justice system. We continue to call for legislation in England, in Wales and in Northern Ireland, to make it a specific offence to abuse, threaten or assault a retail worker. Abuse is not, and should never be, part of the job.”

The home affairs committee last year heard there had been a significant increase in violence against shop workers over the course of the pandemic. The Co-op reported a fourfold increase in violent crime between 2014 and 2020.

The committee said staff were not getting the support they needed from employers.

A specific offence covering abuse of shop workers was introduced in Scotland in 2021.

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