Prosecution for assaulting a police officer

What will happen if I obstruct or assault a police officer?

Assault is a criminal offence. Assaulting a police officer is deemed an ‘aggravated assault’ – and is treated more seriously by the courts.

Under section 89 of the Police Act 1996:

  • It is a criminal offence to assault a constable in the execution of his duty, or a person assisting a constable in the course of his duty.
  • It is an offence to resist or wilfully obstruct a constable in the execution of his duty.

What is meant by ‘in the execution of his duty’?

The key element to both offences is whether or not the police officer was executing his duties at the time of the alleged assault, and therefore acting lawfully at the time the alleged offence occurred. However, it will be important to establish whether or not the individual was acting in self-defence.

What is meant by a police officer’s ‘duty’?

This is not defined by statute, however, the courts will take into account what was necessary for the police to do to protect life and limb, to keep the peace, to prevent crime and to detect crime.

When is it typical for these offences to occur?

Wilful obstruction

At common law, a police officer is under a duty to keep the peace and prevent a breach of the peace. Wilful obstruction of a police officer is most likely to occur when the officer is exercising these common law powers. Wilful obstruction typically occurs during protests when police officers are attempting to prevent a breach of the peace, but protesters refuse to stop certain activities and obstruct police officers performing their duties.

The offence has three elements:

    Obstruction; for instance, making it more difficult for an officer to carry out his duty, or refusing to cooperate with a police officer’s questioning.

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For more information on:

  • Assaulting a police officer
  • What if the assault took place while the officer was not exercising his duties?
  • What is the potential sentence for these offences?