Harper's Law: mandatory life sentences for those who kill emergency workers
The new law is the result of a tireless campaign by the widow of PC Andrew Harper
The government has today (24 November 2021) announced it will pass new law to introduce mandatory life sentences for those convicted of killing an emergency worker while committing a crime.
Harper’s Law – named after PC Andrew Harper, who was tragically killed in the line of duty in 2019 –– seeks to afford emergency workers greater protection while they do their jobs. Ministers said the change in the law will be introduced as soon as possible, but will not be retrospective.
PC Harper’s widow, Lissie, along with the Police Federation, have campaigned tirelessly for the change in the law.
Lissie Harper said: “Emergency services workers require extra protection. I know all too well how they are put at risk and into the depths of danger on a regular basis on behalf of society. That protection is what Harper’s Law will provide and I am delighted that it will soon become a reality.
“It’s been a long journey and a lot of hard work. I know Andrew would be proud to see Harper’s Law reach this important milestone”.
Henry Long, Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers each received custodial sentences of between 13 and 19 years for the manslaughter of PC Harper.
Long was given a 19-year extended determinate sentence, composed of 16 years in custody (unless his release on licence is ordered by the Parole Board at the two thirds point) and an additional three years on extended licence. Were Long to reoffend while on probation or breach his licence conditions, he would be liable to be recalled to custody.
An appeal by the Attorney General to increase their time behind bars was rejected.
The change in the law will extend mandatory life sentences to anyone who commits the manslaughter of an emergency worker on duty while carrying out another crime, unless there are truly exceptional circumstances which relate to the offender or the offence which would make it unjust to apply the minimum sentence.
The courts must already impose life sentences for murder, with a whole-life order being the starting point if the victim is a police officer or prison officer acting in the course of their duties for offences.
The Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 introduced a statutory aggravating factor which means judges must also consider tougher sentences for offences such as manslaughter, GBH or sexual assault if the victim was an emergency worker. This has since been consolidated into the Sentencing Code and can be found in s67 of the Sentencing Act 2020.
Under the new law, the emergency worker does not need to be aware an offence has taken place or be responding directly to it.
The term ‘emergency workers’ includes police officers, National Crime Agency officers, prison officers, custody officers, firefighters and paramedics, as defined in the Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 and section 68 of the Sentencing Code.
Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab, paid tribute to Lissie Harper’s “remarkable campaign” and said the government “is on the side of victims and their families and we want our emergency services to know that we’ll always have their back”.
Home Secretary, Priti Patel, described PC Harper’s death as “shocking” and said: “Those who seek to harm our emergency service workers represent the very worst of humanity and it is right that future killers be stripped of the freedom to walk our streets with a life sentence”.