Section 89 of the Police Act 1996 deals with the following offences:
Section 89(1) makes it a criminal offence to assault a constable in the execution of his duty
Section 89(2) makes it an offence to resist or willfully obstruct a constable in the execution of his duty
The key aspect to be established in both of the above offences is whether or not the constable was acting in the execution of his duty and therefore acting lawfully at the time when the offence occurred.
There is no definition contained in a statute as to what is meant by a police officer’s duty but many courts will take into consideration all the steps necessary to protect life and limb, to keep the peace, to prevent crime and to detect crime.
Willful obstruction of a police officer is most likely to occur when a police officer was exercising his common law powers to prevent a breach of the peace. At common law a police officer is under a duty to keep the peace and prevent a breach of the peace. As a consequence the offence of willful obstruction often comes into play during a protest when police officers claim a breach of the peace – protesters refusing to stop may be ruled to be obstructing the officer in his duties.
Assaulting a police officer can happen at any time when a police officer comes into contact with the public and there is the potential for a police officer to be assaulted. This can often happen in demonstrations when it turns violent or can also happen simply when an officer is trying to arrest someone. For example if someone refuses to be arrested he may attack the officer – this would clearly be seen as an assault.
First and foremost it must be established that an assault had actually taken place – this will be established the same way as in any other criminal case.
The second thing to establish was that it happened in the exercise of the officer’s duty – clearly the example of arresting someone would fall within this definition.
Even if the assault happens outside the exercise of the police officers duties an individual will still be able to be charged with assault if all the elements of a criminal assault can be established.
Assault of a police officer is punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment, and obstruction by up to 1 month imprisonment.
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