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New violent assault legal guidance extends to NHS volunteers

21/07/2008

Tough revised guidelines governing the prosecution of violent offenders who target NHS staff have been jointly issued today by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the NHS Security Management Service (NHS SMS). The updated Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the first time extends to cover not only NHS staff but also people who volunteer their time to the NHS.

The new agreement pushes a strong message that drink and drug abuse will not be seen as an excuse for violent behaviour. Such factors can even make a stronger case against an individual. A new inclusion also prompts prosecutors to consider the potential harm to others if the assault leads to the withdrawal of medical services to people in need of attention, such as damage to an ambulance which puts it out of service.

Taking a strong stand on assaults against NHS staff, the CPS is also asking prosecutors to consider the more serious charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm even where injuries suffered are typical of common assault, when there are aggravating features. One such a feature can be the vulnerability of a victim who works with the public or in the community.

Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir Ken Macdonald, QC said: "People who work hard to deliver patient care and services deserve the protection of the criminal law.

NHS staff play a vital role in our society and without their skill, knowledge and dedication, lives would be lost. Where there is an assault against a member of NHS staff the perpetrator can expect to be prosecuted."

The updated MOU also considers offenders who are affected by mental illness. It clearly outlines how mental disorders vary in nature and degree and the fact that where a person has such a disorder this should not be an automatic bar to prosecution.

Managing Director of the NHS SMS, Dermid McCausland said: "We welcome this revised MOU which offers clear direction for prosecutors in a number of areas including where a volunteer is the victim of a violent attack.

"NHS staff and volunteers can be reassured the CPS will do everything in its power to prosecute offenders wherever the evidence supports a criminal offence."

The new MOU updates a document launched in 2006, and will be issued to all CPS lawyers so they have the latest information should a case be referred to them by the police. Measures such as this agreement have helped increase criminal sanctions 17-fold, from 51 in 2002-03 to 869 in 2006-07.

Applying to the CPS in England and Wales the MOU covers incidents of violence and abuse (whether physical, verbal or sexual, and including assaults which are religiously or racially motivated) and applies to both frontline workers such as Accident and Emergency staff and NHS voluntary staff.

  1. The full Memorandum of Understanding between the NHS Counter Fraud and Security Management Service and the Crown Prosecution Service is available on this website.
  2. Media enquiries to CPS Press Office on 020 7710 6088.
    NHS SMS Press Office contact: 020 7895 4523.
  3. The Crown Prosecution Service is the Government Department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales. It is responsible for:
    • Advising the police and reviewing the evidence on cases for possible prosecution;
    • Deciding the charge where the decision is to prosecute;
    • Preparing cases for court;
    • Presentation of cases at court;

    The CPS consists of 42 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales. The CPS employs around 8,400 people and prosecuted 1,091,250 cases with an overall conviction rate of 83.7% in 2006-2007.

    More about the CPS

    The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests.

    Publicity and the Criminal Justice System protocol