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Possession of an offensive weapon in a public place – what you should know…

Approximately 25,000 people are arrested a year for carrying knives or offensive weapons in England and Wales according to National Police Chiefs’ Council Guidelines on the Investigation, Cautioning and Charging of Knife Crime Offences (2015).

Due to the rise in violent crime in recent years, if caught with a knife or an offensive weapon in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, as an adult you could find yourself in court facing a possible prison sentence of up to 6 months if sentenced in the magistrates’ court or up to 4 years if sentenced in the crown court.

In light of this, here is what you need to know about carrying offences weapons in a public place.

What is the law?

Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 makes it an offences to possess an offensive weapon in a public place.

What must the prosecution prove?

The prosecution have to prove that a person

  • had possession of
  • an offensive weapon
  • in a public place

They must prove this ‘beyond reasonable doubt’.

If the prosecution can establish these three things then a person is guilty of an offence unless they can show that they had either

  • A lawful authority; or
  • A reasonable excuse

The defence must prove that the defendant either had lawful authority or a reasonable excuse ‘on the balance of probabilities’, i.e. that they were more likely than not to have had a reasonable excuse for having possession of an offensive weapon in a public place..

What does possession mean?

They must know they had it on or with them. So, if they didn’t know it was on them or in their bag or car, for example, then they didn’t have possession of it. It should be noted that the fact that a person has forgotten that it was there does not necessarily amount to a defence (i.e. a reasonable excuse) and it will be a matter for the court to decide whether it amounts to defence, taking into account a wider set of circumstances.

What is an offensive weapon?

There are three types of offensive weapons:

  • An offensive weapon per se

This is an object that that is considered an offensive weapon because it does not have an innocent purpose. Examples of offensive weapons per se are knuckle duster, disguised or concealed knives, a truncheon, sword, machete or a flick knife.

The prosecution do not have to prove that the person in possession of this type offensive weapon had any intention to cause injury with it.

  • An object adapted to cause injury

Examples of these could be a deliberately broken bottle, a club with nails in it, a water pistol filled with acid or an unscrewed pool cue.

Again, the prosecution do not have to prove that the person in possession of this type of offensive weapon had any intention to cause injury with it.

  • An object that does not fall into the previous two categories but is intended to be used to cause injury

This would include a work hammer or baseball bat or household acid.

As these objects have an innocent purpose (for example for work as a builder or playing sports), the prosecution have to prove that you intended to cause injury with it and they must prove this beyond reasonable doubt.

In terms of carrying acid, a court would look at the circumstances in which it was carried. If it is amongst other shopping items in its original container then it is unlikely that they could prove intention to cause injury beyond reasonable doubt.

What counts as a public place?

It is anywhere where the public has or is allowed to have access to at the time. This therefore can include a car unless it is parked on private property. It is likely to include the reception area of a hostel if the public can just walk in, but not the corridors if you have to have a key or a fob to access them.

What are the defences to possessing an offensive weapon in a public place?

Lawful authority

This only applies to a person who is carrying the weapon as a matter of duty. This would include a soldier or a police officer whilst on duty.

Reasonable excuse

Here are some examples of when a person may have a reasonable excuse:

  • Carrying a hammer in your tool bag on your way to or back from work
  • When dressing up in a police uniform for fancy dress and a truncheon is part of the outfit.
  • A security guard may have a reasonable excuse for having an offensive weapon but it would depend on the circumstances.
  • If a person has an offensive weapon because they have just disarmed someone else.
  • If a person thought they were going to be imminently attacked and had the weapon to defend themselves against a specific danger. It is very important that you cannot carry an offensive weapon for general self-defence.

What should a person do if they find an offensive weapon?

They should hand it into the police as soon as possible. If the person is stopped by the police soon after taking possession of it but before they could hand it in, then they would have a reasonable excuse. However, if a person found it and then forgot to hand it into the police this would not amount to a reasonable excuse.