Have you been accused of possession of a bladed article or being in possession of an offensive weapon?

A criminal offence in contravention of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, a conviction will depend on the severity of the offence, alongside any aggravating or mitigating factors.

If found guilty, sentencing ranges from:

  1. A low level community order
  2. A maximum of  4 years’ imprisonment, plus a fine

 

Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate at Lawtons Solicitors, discusses this area of the law and the implications of a conviction.

 

What does possession of a bladed article mean?

Possession of a bladed article is a criminal offence in contravention of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and – in certain circumstances – the Prevention of Crime Act 1953.

A bladed article – essentially a knife – is often classified as an offensive weapon under UK law, meaning that in certain circumstances it is illegal to carry a knife in public, even if you do not intend to use it.

Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 prohibits the possession in a public place of any article that has a blade or is sharply pointed, unless it is a folding pocket knife which has a blade which is less than 3 inches in length.

Even if the blade is blunt, such as on a butter knife, being in possession of the item could constitute a criminal offence. Section 139AA of this Act relates to an aggravated version of this offence of threatening with an article with a blade, a point or an offensive weapon.

Whilst you are allowed to possess a bladed article in private – such as a kitchen knife at home – if the bladed article is used in a threatening way in this environment, as far as the law is concerned, it then becomes an offensive weapon or can be an assault if a person present fears an imminent attack.

 

What is the definition of an offensive weapon?

An offensive weapon is defined in Section One of the Prevention of Crime Act as:

‘Any article made or adapted for use to causing injury to the person, or intended by the person having it with him for such use.’

There are three categories of offensive weapon classified under UK law:

  1. Those made with the intent of causing harm or injury to another, including various types of knife, pepper spray and knuckle dusters
  2. Those adapted for the purpose of causing harm – items that have been changed or altered from their original state, such as a snooker ball in a sock, or a water pistol filled with acid
  3. Those carried with the intention of causing harm or injury to another, such as a bottle filled with acid carried with the intent of throwing it into someone’s face

 

What are the available defences for possession of an offensive weapon?

The available defences for being found in possession of an offensive weapon have been narrowly restricted by the courts. If found in possession of an offensive weapon which is classified in either of the first 2 categories, the prosecution are not required to prove the defendant was carrying the weapon with the intention to commit harm or injury.

In order to prove the third category, it is necessary for the prosecution to show that there was an intention to cause actual injury. It is not enough for the prosecution to show that there was an intention to scare or frighten, so the mere brandishing of an item would not in itself be sufficient.

If the court is satisfied that the item used is an offensive weapon the defendant would normally only be acquitted of the offence if they successfully claim the defences of lawful authority or reasonable excuse, such as:

  1. If the knife is a tool of your trade, such as a Stanley knife or a chef’s knife
  2. For religious reasons, such as a Sikh kirpan
  3. In self-defence if the threat of violence is imminent and the possession of the offensive weapon is more than just a precautionary measure

 

Which knives are illegal under UK law?

Several types of knife are automatically illegal  – with no exceptions – under UK law, including:

  1. Flick knives – also known as ‘switchblades’ where the blade is hidden but shoots out when a button is pressed and then locks into place
  2. Butterfly knives – where the blade is hidden inside a handle that splits into two around it
  3. Disguised knives – where the blade is hidden inside something such as a belt
  4. Sword-sticks
  5. Samurai swords – unless the item is regarded as decorative, antique or an ornamental object

 

Swiss Army knives are permitted in the UK, providing the blade measures less than 7.62cm and the knife does not lock into place

 

Possession of a bladed article and the law

Under UK law, the offence of possession of a bladed article is triable either way, meaning it can be heard in either the magistrates’ court or the crown court.

If the magistrates decide the offence can be dealt with using their sentencing powers, the accused may opt to have the case heard summarily in the magistrates’ court or on indictment – trial by jury – in the crown court.

What is the penalty for being found guilty of possession of a bladed article?

The Sentencing Council has issued new Guidelines which are effective from 1st June 2018.

These Guidelines specify a range of penalties if found guilty of possession of a bladed article. The courts are increasingly imposing harsher and longer sentences for those people convicted or pleading guilty to offences involving knives or offensive weapons.

If found guilty of the offence, the penalty or sentence will depend on various factors including:

  1. The severity of the offence – culpability and harm
  2. Any aggravating factors
  3. Any mitigating factors

 

If pleading not guilty and the offence is a first offence, the starting points and category ranges will be:

 

Harm Starting Point – Category A Starting Point – Category B Starting Point – Category C Starting Point – Category D
Category 1 18 months’ imprisonment 9 months’ imprisonment 3 months’ imprisonment High level community order
Category range  – Category A Category range  – Category B Category range  – Category C Category range  – Category D
12 months’ – 30 months’ imprisonment   6 months’ – 18 months’ imprisonment High level community order – 6 months’ custody Mid-level community order – 3 months’ custody
Category 2 Starting Point – Category A Starting Point – Category B Starting Point – Category C Starting Point – Category D
6 months’ imprisonment High level community order Mid-level community order Low-level community order
Category range  – Category A Category range  – Category B Category range  – Category C Category range  – Category D
3 months’ – 12 months’ imprisonment Mid-level community order – 6 months’ imprisonment Low-level community order – high-level community order Band C fine  – mid-level community order

 

What is the definition of a category 1 offence?

A category 1 offence indicates a higher level of harm. Factors considered in order to determine the level of harm caused include:

  1. If the offence was committed at a school or other place where vulnerable people are present
  2. If the offence was committed in prison
  3. If the offence was committed in circumstances where there was a risk of serious disorder
  4. If the offence caused serious distress or alarm

 

What is the definition of a category 2 offence?

A category 2 offence is classified as any other offence that does not fall within category 1.

 

Aggravating factors in a case of possession of a bladed article

In a case of possession of a bladed article, factors which indicate a higher level of culpability or a greater degree of harm will be considered when sentencing.

Factors which indicate a higher level of culpability include:

  1. Any previous convictions relating to the offence
  2. The offence was committed whilst on bail
  3. The use of a particularly dangerous weapon
  4. The intentional, planned use of the weapon to commit violence, threaten violence or intimidate
  5. If attempts were made to conceal identity
  6. If attempts were made to conceal or dispose of evidence
  7. If the offence was motivated by hostility towards a minority individual or group
  8. If the offence was committed under the influence of drink or drugs
  9. If the offender was operating in a group or gang

 

Factors which indicate a greater degree of harm include:

  1. The offence was committed at a school, hospital or other place where vulnerable persons may be present
  2. The offence was committed on premises where people carry out public services
  3. The offence was committed on licensed premises
  4. The offence was committed on public transport
  5. The offence was committed at large public gathering, especially where there may be risk of disorder

 

Mitigating factors in a case of possession of a bladed article

Factors indicating lower culpability include:

  1. If the weapon was originally in the defendant’s possession for a legitimate reason, such as in the course of their work
  2. If the weapon was only carried on a temporary basis

 

When sentencing, mitigating factors which may also be taken into account include:

  1. Showing genuine remorse
  2. No previous convictions
  3. A willingness to cooperate with police
  4. Admission during a police interview
  5. Good character
  6. A lack of maturity
  7. A mental disorder or learning disability
  8. A serious medical condition requiring intensive or long term treatment
  9. If the defendant is the sole or primary carer for dependants

 

When tried summarily in the magistrates’ court, the maximum penalty for being found guilty of possession of a bladed article is a level 5 fine and/or 6 months in prison.

When tried on indictment in the crown court, the maximum penalty is 4 years’ imprisonment.

If there is a previous conviction for being in possession of a bladed article, the court must impose a minimum custodial sentence of 6 months unless it considers it unjust to do so. This recent change in the law reflects how the courts are increasingly sentencing knife crime more harshly and imposing deterrent sentences, which is why expert legal advice and assistance is so important.

The court may also impose an ancillary order or compensation.

 

What to do if you are accused of possession of a bladed article

If you have been accused of possession of a bladed article, you should seek expert legal advice as soon as you are able to do so. Expert representation is essential to ensure the best possible outcome for your case.

Having a legal team that can support you is vital. At Lawtons our specialist serious violence and assault solicitors are experienced in defending the most complex legal cases. We will work with you to establish the facts of the case with the aim of achieving the best outcome for you, whilst minimising the potential impact on your reputation.  

Call us on 0333 577 0522 to discuss the individual circumstances of your case.

 

About the author

Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate of Lawtons, is a dedicated criminal solicitor  with considerable experience in the most serious legal cases. Nick’s measured and methodical approach means he thrives on even the most complex cases, including sexual offences, violence and assault.

Nick also part oversees the overall management of Lawtons Solicitors, a specialist firm of criminal law defence solicitors with branches across London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex.

  1. This guide is only intended to provide general advice and should not be relied upon as providing specific in relation to individuals or cases. The law is complex and specialist advice is required in relation to specific circumstances or cases.

Lawtons Solicitors Ltd accept no liability for anyone relying upon or seeking to interpret this blog. Should you require specific advice or assistance, please contact us to discuss your case.