Harper’s Law: How Far Should Protection of Emergency Service Workers Go?

By Xinyu Sia

Andrew Harper and his wife Lissie Harper
PC Andrew Harper (right) and his wife Lissie Harper (left) [Source: https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/pc-harpers-widow-shares-final-22525039]

On 15 August 2019, Police Constable (PC) Andrew Harper was killed in the line of duty after responding to a report of theft. While chasing after the suspects’ vehicle, his foot was caught in a strap and was likely “dragged by a vehicle for some distance”.[1] The three defendants indicted in this case (aged 18-19) were later convicted of manslaughter rather than murder.


PC Harper’s widow, Lissie Harper, was “shocked and appalled” that there would be no extensions to the killers’ prison sentences.


She later spearheaded the campaign for a new law under Harper’s name to better protect emergency services workers. Her petition called for “anyone found guilty of killing a police officer, firefighter, nurse, doctor, prison officer or paramedic” to be “jailed for life”, and eventually attracted more than 770,000 signatures.[2]


Her campaign came to fruition on 24 November 2021, when the UK Government confirmed that ‘Harper’s Law’ will formally be added into statute via an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The new law introduces mandatory life sentences for anyone convicted of killing an emergency worker on duty whilst committing a crime, unless there are truly exceptional circumstances.[3] This was justified by Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to “honour Andrew’s life” and ensure that “those who seek to harm our emergency service workers”, who “represent the very worst of humanity, will “be stripped of the freedom to walk our streets with a life sentence”.[4] Lissie Harper added that “emergency services workers require extra protection” as they are “put at risk and into the depths of danger on a regular basis on behalf of society”.[5]


However, there have been critics voicing concerns about the possible injustice of this law.


Firstly, barrister and legal blogger Matthew Scott sets out that the “vast range of different ways in which manslaughter can be committed” establishes that justice can only be served when judges are free to “make the punishment fit the crime”.[6] A fixed life sentence imposed on all cases involving the death of an emergency worker will inevitably carry excessive consequences for cases with lower culpability, such as for defendants with mental conditions and lack of mens rea.


He also claims that according emergency workers this special protection would have serious implications. It can be argued that other groups in society such as public service workers also deserve such protection, and the “list could go on almost indefinitely”.[7] If we extend special protection to guardians of society, why should we not do the same for vulnerable members of the public?


Finally, author ‘Secret Barrister’ concludes that Harper’s Law is a “campaign born not of principle, but of a victim’s dissatisfaction with a verdict in a particular case”.[8] They argue that imposing a mandatory life sentence on all defendants irrespective of culpability does not actually lend any “extra protection” to emergency service workers, as such a law would fundamentally be “about vengeance, not deterrence”.[9]


In sum, while Harper’s Law does provide comfort to the victim’s loved ones after a tragedy, a lot more thought must be put into its far-reaching implications that could potentially impact every individual in society.



[1] Lucy Thorne, ‘Police release PC Andrew Harper's cause of death as murder investigation continues’ (Reading, 17 Aug 2019) <https://www.getreading.co.uk/news/reading-berkshire-news/police-release-pc-andrew-harpers-16773535>

[2] Lissie Harper, ‘Anyone guilty of killing an emergency services worker to be jailed for life’ (change.org, 2020) <https://www.change.org/p/uk-government-anyone-guilty-of-killing-an-emergency-services-worker-to-be-jailed-for-life-2> accessed 3 December 2021

[3] Ministry of Justice, The Rt Hon Dominic Raab MP, The Rt Hon Priti Patel MP, ‘Government to introduce 'Harper’s Law'’, (gov.uk, 24 November 2021) <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-to-introduce-harper-s-law> accessed 3 December 2021

[4] ibid

[5] ibid

[6] Matthew Scott, ‘Harper’s Law is fundamentally unjust’ (London, 25 November 2021) <https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/harpers-law-is-fundamentally-unjust-dnsxp8vxm>

[7] ibid

[8] Secret Barrister, ‘Harper’s Law is deeply troubling, and our politicians are too cowardly to admit it’ (London, 25 November 2021) <https://inews.co.uk/opinion/harpers-law-troubling-politicians-too-cowardly-point-out-1318590>

[9] ibid


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