LETTER: Magistrates’ hands are tied

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Your report on assaults on Sussex police officers (February 24) raised concerns as to how seriously such offences are being taken, with only 63 per cent of assailants being prosecuted.

I recently retired as a magistrate after 33 years on the bench (in a different county). When I started, assaults on the police in the execution of their duty were all treated as serious, with imprisonment as the first consideration and spitting, for example, was considered particularly aggravating.

Although six months’ imprisonment is still the maximum sentence (you actually only serve three months), magistrates’ hands are now tied by the Sentencing Council guidelines where, unless the assault is sustained or accompanied by racial insults, there is likely to be only a fine. Even for the most serious assaults the entry point for a sentence of imprisonment is 12 weeks (six weeks inside).

It would be interesting to find out why 37 per cent of assailants are not prosecuted. I suspect that in many cases it is the bureaucracy involved in prosecution, particularly as the Sussex Police guideline you quote requires a second officer to investigate the assault. The Crown Prosecution Service may also be weeding out assaults that they regard as minor.

Thus, unfortunately, a drunk who punches a police officer trying to arrest him knows it will make very little difference to the sentence he receives, if he is prosecuted at all.

Michael Staples JP

Grove Road, Seaford