The maximum penalty for assaulting police officers, nurses or any other emergency workers is to be doubled from one to two years.
It follows a consultation this summer on raising punishments and comes amid a series of reforms to sentencing being announced by the Ministry of Justice this week.
A law will be introduced raising the maximum sentence to two years in jail. The change will, the MoJ said, offer greater protection to emergency workers, including police, prison officers, custody officers, fire service personnel, search and rescue services and frontline health workers.
The consultation is said to have shown support from emergency workers for stronger punishments.
The justice secretary, Robert Buckland QC, said: “The debt of gratitude we owe to our emergency workers has never been greater. Every day they risk their lives to protect ours – they should never face being punched, kicked or spat at.
“Anyone looking to harm prison officers, police, fire personnel or health workers should be under no illusion – your disgraceful behaviour is unacceptable and you will feel the full force of the law.”
Priti Patel, the home secretary, said: “Our police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers are our frontline heroes who put their lives on the line every single day to keep us safe, yet some despicable individuals still think it’s acceptable to attack, cough or spit at these courageous public servants.
“This new law sends a clear and simple message to these vile thugs – you will not get away with such appalling behaviour and you will be subject to the force of the law.”
In 2018, the government changed the law (Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018) so that anyone who attacked an emergency worker could face a maximum 12-month prison sentence. Judges also have to give longer sentences for more serious offences, such as GBH or sexual assault, if the victim was an emergency worker. An assault may include pushing, shoving or spitting.
The chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, Martin Hewitt, said: “It is never acceptable for anyone to be assaulted or harmed just for turning up to do their job. Police and their emergency service colleagues work hard every day to protect and keep the public safe.
“We will use the full force of the law to prosecute anyone who uses violence against those who are on the front line and the doubling of the maximum sentence sends a clear message that society will not tolerate abuse of our emergency workers.”
Concern about the dangers emergency workers faced was heightened following the death of PC Harper in Berkshire. In his case, those responsible were convicted of the more serious offence of manslaughter.