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Weapon offences under UK law

It’s been a major talking point over the last two years; knife crime is on the rise. There were 40,147 offences in the 12 months ending in March 2018, a 16% increase on the previous year and the highest number since 2011. According to police figures, there has also been an 11% increase in firearms offences, and these are both parts of a larger debate occurring in the UK right now; how best to tackle the rise in violent crime?

It’s important to understand the different types of weapon offences under English law. The primary offences are as follows:

  • Possession of offensive weapon/s.
  • Possession of a knife/bladed article.
  • Possession of a firearm (both real and imitation).

Possessing an offensive weapon in a public place is an offence contrary to section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953. There are three categories of offensive weapon, the first is a weapon that is made for causing injury to a person – “offensive per se” such as flick knives, kitchen knives, butterfly knives and knuckle dusters. The second type is one that’s not made for that purpose but adapted for it, such as a potato with a razor blade inserted into. The third type of weapon is one that’s neither made nor adapted, but is intended for the purpose of causing personal injury to someone, for example a coffee tumbler filled with bleach, with the intent of throwing it into a person’s face to cause injury.

The consequences

Possession of an offensive weapon can carry a prison sentence of up to 4 years at Crown Court, even if it's not used, whilst the maximum sentence that can be handed down in the magistrates’ court is 6 months imprisonment, or a fine (for a single offence). There is a minimum 5-year sentence for carrying a gun if over 18, however, even if the defendant is younger, they may still go to prison. In a more extreme case whereby an individual dies as a result of being stabbed, the offender will face a life sentence and serve a minimum prison sentence of 25 years, whilst causing death by firearm carries a life sentence and a mandatory 30-year prison sentence.

Interestingly, nearly two-thirds of people convicted of crimes involving knives or other weapons were given custodial sentences in 2017, according to Ministry of Justice figures. They not only state that more offenders are being jailed, but for longer periods than ever before.

Exceptions for carrying a knife

It is an offence to carry any sharp or bladed instrument in a public place, with the exception of a folding pocket knife with a blade that is 7.62 cm (3 inches) or less. That said, under certain circumstances, it is legal to be in possession of a knife in public, such as if it’s a tool for your trade or part of a religious commandment like a Sikh kirpan.

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