Concern over emergency worker attacks

Accident and emergency staff are frequnetly attacked. Picture: John Devlin.
Accident and emergency staff are frequnetly attacked. Picture: John Devlin.

More than a quarter of charges brought for alleged attacks on emergency service workers last year did not get considered by a court, new figures have shown.

Last year, 407 charges were brought relating to assaulting or impeding staff under the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act. However, just 296 of the 2015-16 charges were proceeded with.

The statistics were released following a parliamentary question from Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Douglas Ross.

Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said some cases may have ultimately been dropped where the mental health of an attacker was an issue. In some cases multiple charges may be brought against an individual. In these cases it may be that some of the charges against the individual are taken further while others are dropped.

Mr Ross said: “Violence against the men and women of our emergency services in Scotland is an increasing problem, and one the Scottish Government has said it wants to address.

“But these figures show fewer cases are actually making it to court, and those attacked while trying to protect us are being let down. And while there will be a reasonable explanation for some of these charges not being pursued, it’s clear someone who attacks a member of the emergency services has more chance of getting away with it than before.

“That will do nothing to deter others who think this sort of despicable behaviour is acceptable.

“Police, fire and ambulance staff do an incredible job in often difficult circumstances, and have to put up with things many of us couldn’t imagine.”

Mr Ross added: “That’s why it’s essential that when they come under attack, our justice system is ready to protect them.”

Last year’s figures compared with 492 charges brought in 2014-15 of which just 392 were proceeded with.

In 2014-15 there were a further 54 charges in which proceedings were brought to court then no further action was taken. That compared with 39 last year.

The Emergency Workers (Scotland) Act 2005 makes it a specific offence to assault, obstruct or hinder someone providing an emergency service or assisting an emergency worker in an emergency situation.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Decisions about prosecutions are an operational matter for the Crown Office. However, we fully support our police, prosecutors and our courts in holding those who attack emergency workers to account using the powers of the Emergency Workers Act with this legislation having been expanded by this administration in 2008.”

A Crown Office spokesman said: “The Crown takes assaults on members of the emergency services extremely seriously.

“As with all criminal proceedings, each case is considered on its own facts and circumstances, and action will be taken where there is sufficient evidence to proceed and it is in the public interest to do so.”