Skip to main content

Assault against Prison Officers

Volume 590: debated on Tuesday 6 January 2015

3. What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to ensure that assaults against prison officers are more effectively prosecuted. (906835)

I believe very strongly that assaults on prison officers should be taken seriously and dealt with robustly by prosecutors. The CPS is currently working with the police and the National Offender Management Service to develop a national joint protocol on crimes in prisons, focusing on offences against prison officers. This is something I helped to instigate as prisons Minister and I am very pleased to see it happening. The CPS legal guidance on prison offences also outlines that if the victim is a prison officer performing his or her duty, the public interest is heavily in favour of prosecution.

I thank the Attorney-General for his answer. As he knows, my constituency contains two prisons and a secure training centre, so I would like to be sure that a prison officer who is the victim of assault would be entitled to exactly the same service as other victims outside prisons.

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. The custodial institutions he refers to are on the boundary between his constituency and mine—I know them well—and like me he represents people who work in the prison system. They are entitled to protection; in particular, they can make a victim impact statement, as can other victims of crime. In addition, it is possible—and I would encourage the use of these—for a prison community impact statement to be made. Prisons are unique communities and can be affected substantially by criminal offences, so it is important that sentencers take that into account when sentencing.

We know that with the shortage of prison officers the number of assaults on individual officers has increased. Has the number of prosecutions for those assaults also increased?

The hon. Lady will understand that I cannot comment on particular prosecution decisions, but she will know that in my last job and this one I have made my views plain: I think it is important that where there is evidence Crown prosecutors prosecute in cases where prison officers are assaulted. Such assaults should never happen, of course, but we have tightened the protocols to make it clear that where they do so and evidence is present Crown prosecutors should proceed against those who assault prison officers, because those who work in our prison system are entitled to the full support of the law in what they do.

Given the increasing incidence of violence in prisons, I welcome the personal interest that the Attorney-General has taken in the issue and his determination that prosecution will follow assaults on prison officers. Does he agree that it is essential that the state protects prison officers with the full force of the law, given the important work they do on our behalf?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. I restate the point that, as he and the House understand, it is not for politicians to make decisions on individual prosecutions, but it is important that we send the clearest guidance we can to Crown prosecutors about when prosecution should follow. It is important, too, that sentencers make full use of the sentencing guidelines in this respect. The sentencing guidelines are clear that where an offence is committed by a serving prisoner, the sentence that follows, if a conviction occurs, should be consecutive and not concurrent. It is important that prosecutors do their bit to make that clear too.

The officers at HMP Risley in my constituency are concerned about the increasing violence in prisons, but other public sector workers, such as hospital and ambulance workers, are also on the front line. Will the Attorney-General ensure that the CPS takes a stand on those cases and prosecutes them rigorously, and will he discuss with his colleagues in government the need to introduce a particular offence, carrying an exemplary sentence, of assaulting a public sector worker in the course of their duties?

I certainly agree that it is important that where public servants are assaulted their public service is taken fully into account not just by prosecutors but by sentencers. The hon. Lady will be aware that assaulting someone while they are serving the public is an aggravating feature for sentencers to take into account. That is as it should be. However, we will continue to consider whether the law needs to be strengthened. She will know that many people, in this Government and the previous Government, have considered whether a specific offence should be created for assaults on those serving the public.